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Thursday, 10 November 1938

Mr BARNARD (Bass) .- On the 8th November, I asked the Minister for Health the following questions: -

1.   Is it a fact that the matron and several sisters and members of tho trained staff of tlie Canberra Community Hospital recently resigned ? '

2.   If so, how many of the trained staff in addition to the matron have resigned since the 1st September, 1938 f

3.   Has the vacancy for matron been filled? If so, were applications called, and if not, why not* <1. Has any inquiry been instituted to ascertain the reason for these wholesale resignations ?

In reply, the Minister informed me that in addition to the matron, nine members of the nursing staff had resigned. Replying to the third question he said that the vacancy had been filled but that applications had not been called, because the lady who previously had given great satisfaction as sub-matron of the hospital had been offered the position of matron, which she had accepted. He also said that the Hospital Board had authority in respect of the hospital staff, and that no circumstances associated with the resignations suggested the need for an inquiry. I am by no means satisfied with the replies given to me by the Minister. His reply to my third question suggests that the new matron was, in fact, sub-matron at the hospital when the resignations took place. That is not so, for she had resigned her position as sub-matron seme time previously. Before being appointed to the vacant position of matron, she was communicated with by telephone at Armidale and offered the position, which she accepted. The Canberra Community Hospital is controlled by a board elected under the provisions of an ordinance which provides that all persons, within certain limits, living in the Australian Capital Territory, shall pay a tax towards the maintenance of the hospital. Regulations 24 and 25 of the Ordinance provide -

24.   - The board shall, subject to the directions of the Minister -

(a)   determine matters concerning the general policy to be adopted by the medical superintendent in the administration of the hospital; and

(b)   arrange for the purchase of supplies, equipment and any other tilings necessary for the efficient operation of the hospital. (2.) The board may, from time to time, confer with the members of the medical profession on matters of interest to the hospital and the profession. (3.) The board shall have power to borrow money.

25.   - (1.) The Minister shall appoint a medical superintendent of the hospital, who shall hold office for such period and on such terms as the Minister determines.

In the ordinance, which became operative on the 1st July, the then Acting Minister for Health (Mr. Archie Cameron) handed over the internal administration of the hospital to the medical superintendent, subject to directions from the Minister. Recently, the matron and nine members of the trained nursing staff of twelve resigned as a protest against certain administrative actions of the superintendent. Yet the Minister states that the resignation of 75 per cent. of the trained staff calls for no inquiry. An inquiry into the circumstances is warranted. The Minister concedes that the board has power to order an inquiry, but says that he does not think that one is warranted, and the board seems to agree that nothing abnormal has happened. All is not well with an institution when so many resignations take place at the same time. This matter cannot be passed over lightly. Residents of Canberra pay a compulsory tax towards the maintenance of the hospital, and if they become ill they are entitled to receive treatment at the institution. Any ill person, before he enters hospital, likes to have complete confidence in the efficiency of the staff; no such confidence could be had in the existing circumstances. I should not agree to enter an institution when I knew that internal conditions were such that 75 per cent. of the trained staff had resigned simultaneously.

Mr Blain - There are too many bosses.

Mr BARNARD - That may be true; I do not know. It was in order to get information that I asked my question. The appointment of a matron to fill the vacancy was made in most unusual circumstances. The usual procedure " for any government or public body such as a hospital board is to call for applications, but in this instance a member of the trained staff of the Armidale Hospital was communicated with by telephone and offered the job. She accepted it. She may be a most competent matron. I do not know her and I do not offer any criticism of her. I do, however, criticize the way in which she was appointed. Positions are not usually filled in government institutions in that way. Such positions are invariably open to all qualified persons throughout the Commonwealth.

It will be noted that the Minister's reply to my question was so framed that it appeared that the new appointee was at the time of her appointment on the staff of the hospital. I do not know whether the reply was designed to be misleading, but misleading it was. The true position was that she resigned from the Canberra Hospital some weeks ago to accept an appointment at Armidale. The next move was to call for applications to fill the nine vacancies on the trained staff, and again the unusual course was adopted of making appointments before the applications closed.

Mr Blain - That is done in all bureaucracies.

Mr BARNARD - That may be true, but we are living in a democratic land.

Mr Blain - Not here.

Mr BARNARD - It is claimed thai we in Australia are under democratic control, and if that be true, I wish to preserve that rule. I am not satisfied to accept many of the conditions which prevail in the Australian Capital Territory, the mismanagement of which is beyond description. On many occasions, I have directed the attention of honorable members to acts of mismanagement of the Territory. I do not intend any reflection upon the public servants.

Mr Mahoney - Do not " square-off ".

Mr BARNARD - I am not " squaringoff ". The responsibility for the control of the Australian Capital Territory lies with the Minister for the Interior, and, if the administration of Canberra by this Government is a sample of its administration generally, I am sorry for the Commonwealth.

Several appointments to the hospital staff were made by telephone, and a cable was even sent to a nursing sister on a visit to England asking her if she would accept appointment. It cannot be claimed that there was urgency in filling the vacancies and it seems to me that somebody in authority wanted to hand-pick in order to fill positions on the trained staff; otherwise, why was the board willing to expend money on sending a cable to a nursing sister who was in England in order to induce her to accept a position on the staff?

There is another aspect of the matter9 which calls for immediate action. Under the previous ordinance, regulations were approved and gazetted. Under the more recent ordinance, no regulations are gazetted, and we, therefore, have the position that the hospital is being administered under regulations some of which may be ultra vires the existing ordinance. That may not be the position, but I have gone to a great deal of trouble to ascertain the facts and I have been able to find nothing contrary to what T have said.

The state of affairs which I have disĀ» closed shows the need for an inquiry into the hospital affairs for the purpose, first, of ascertaining why wholesale resignations of the matron and the trained staff took place, and, secondly, why the vacancies were filled in such an irregular manner.

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