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Friday, 19 May 1939

Mr COLLINS (Hume) .- I visited Darwin as a member of the Public Works Committee to assist in the inquiry into the proposal to build a new hospital there. This was my second visit. The first was made in company with the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) when he was Minister for the Interior. It was obvious even at that time that a new hospital was required. When the committee went to Darwin last year I was making my second trip. Still more obvious then was the need for a new hospital. The hospital building was in a fearful state, and the sisters and nurses were called upon to work under appalling conditions. The conditions would be bad enough anywhere, but the isolation of Darwin from the amenities of life in southern cities makes the position there even more serious. The expanded preparations for defence at Darwin also make a new hospital imperative. The committee lost no time. First it selected a site for the projected new hospital, a magnificent position overlooking the sea, which was formerly occupied by the aboriginals' compound.- The compound has been moved toanother place. All possible information was obtained by the committee from every one who gave evidence. The honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Blain) was in Darwin when the committee was taking evidence. In his speech to-day the honorablemember said that medical authori ties at Darwin were not examined. If he looks at the list of witnesses he will see that they were.

Mr Blain - No. I said that no notice was taken of them.

Mr COLLINS - We took evidence from the matron, Miss Ashburner, and from Dr. Cook, the Chief Medical Officer. No stone was left unturned by the committee in its investigations. In Sydney, we discussed the matter with Dr. Schlink, of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, who is one of the greatest authorities on hospitals in the world. Evidence was taken from the Resident Architect at Darwin, Mr. Burnett, the Commissioner of the Commonwealth Railways, Mr. Gahan, the Government Secretary at Darwin, Mr. Giles, the Works Director at Darwin, Mr. Stoddart, and Mr. Haslam, the Superintending Architect in Canberra, in addition to Miss Ashburner and Dr. Cook. In examining witnesses, having in mind the progress in scientific knowledge that will occur, we made inquiries as to the advisability or wisdom of building a large hospital suitable for 40 or 50 years of use, and decided that it was unwise and unsound to make provision for more than fifteen or twenty years. We decided that a hospital costing £67,000 would be all that would be needed within that space of time, bearing in mind the fact that the population at present is only about 2,000. If honorable members examine the report carefully they will see that full care was taken by the committee before it reached that decision. The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) directed attention to the mention in one part of the report of a daily average of 40 in-patients, and in another part a daily average of 31. The general opinion expressed before the inquiry was that the daily average of in-patients was 40 persons, whereas the examination of witnesses associated with the administration of the hospital showed that it was only 31. A daily average of 40 inpatients would over-crowd the present premises. I realize the difficulties that honorable members experience in absorbing the details of all the papers that are presented to Parliament, but I am sorry that honorable members have not made themselves more conversant with the details of this report. I can understand that honorable members will have their own ideas as to what should or should not be provided in a hospital at Darwin, but 1 assure them that no committee has ever settled down to do a job of work with greater care and enthusiasm than has the Public Works Committee during the time I have been associated with it. Any honorable member who was able to go to Darwin would realize the need for a new hospital and would have sufficient confidence in the Public Works Committee to know that it has done its job conscientiously and in a businesslike way. Opinion may be divided on whether too much or too little is to be expended, but if this work is done it will be a credit to the Government and to the committee.

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