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Wednesday, 20 May 1970

Mr LUCOCK (Lyne) - I would like to comment on some of the things that were said by the honourable member for Kingston (Dr Gun). At one stage he said that he wondered why the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) had accepted the portfolio of Health and why he really was holding on to it because he did not seem to be interested and did not even seem to be doing the job. I think this is answered, first of all, in the speech that the Minister made in this debate. The Minister answered the queries raised by the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) and also the queries that had been raised in other instances. Also, I think one should consider what the Minister for Health did during the preparation of the recent National Health Bill, the time that he spent in travelling around Australia and discussing the situation and matters relating to the Bill with those who were interested and ascertaining whether people agreed with the Bill. I am sure that even the people who oppose some of the provisions of that Bill accept the fact that the Minister for Health at least devoted a tremendous amount of time and effort to endeavouring to ascertain the conconsidered opinion of many of the people associated with health matters. I think that effort on the part of the Minister answers the criticism of the Minister for Health by the honourable member for Kingston.

The closing words of the Minister also provided an answer to the criticism from the Opposition. I cannot remember the exact words but the Minister expressed the view that, while he believed that this matter of public importance brought forward by the Opposition could not be supported in strength, nevertheless the discussion was of value because matters of concern and the complexities of health care could be discussed. Again this was an acceptance by the Minister of the problems and difficulties associated with nursing.

I particularly want to mention 2 points associated with this discussion on the nursing profession. I wonder whether there is any relationship between this discussion, as one of public importance, and another debate not so long ago on the Canberra Hospital, and the fact that a by-election campaign is now under way in this area. It is extremely easy for an Opposition at any stage to bring forward matters such as this and to say what it would do if it occupied the government benches. The Opposition can do this because it has absolutely no responsibility. Opposition members know that they can say things without having to worry about putting their words into effect.

I think it is accepted by everybody that there is a need to raise the general standard of nursing. Nobody would disagree with that proposition. But to do this requires a certain amount of time. The honourable member for Kingston commented on some of the nursing conditions .in hospitals' in some States. I remind him that the Australian Labor Party was in office in my own state of New South Wales for some considerable time. The Liberal-Country Party coalition now in office in that State is finding it tremendously hard to rectify some of the mistakes and some of the bungling of a Labor Government.

The Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) answered the points put forward by the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) about other duties performed by nurses. These duties vary in different States as well as in different hospitals. Not all hospital authorities require nurses to perform exactly the same type of duty outside the direct sphere of nursing, lt is accepted that the problems of health are complex. The Commonwealth has taken steps to have discussions with the States about this matter in an endeavour not only to uplift the general standard of nursing but also to make a valuable contribution to hospital and health services throughout the country. Associated with nursing are home nursing, meals on wheels and all the other activities that are part and parcel of a nation's health service.

It appears that running through this discussion is the suggestion that an increase in remuneration would solve the whole problem associated with nursing. Nobody expects people in the nursing profession to work without proper remuneration. During the demonstration by nurses outside Parliament House yesterday somebody said to one of the nurses: 'I would not take on your job for $5,000 a week', and the nurse replied: 'Neither would I'. I think that remark underlines an important clement. Nursing is not a profession that people follow merely for the remuneration they receive, but this does not mean that this section of the community should bc exploited. The point I stress is that there should be no intervention by a particular parly or a particular government in relation to remuneration. We have always stood firmly by the idea that all such matters should be determined by arbitration. That was the reason for the appointment of the Conciliation and . Arbitration Commission. A dangerous precedent would be established if any government interfered with the Commission in respect of the fixing of rates of remuneration. Such action would have a tremendous effect on the economy as a whole. In addition, it would bring such matters into the field of politics. That would be most dangerous not only to a particular union or a particular section of the community but to the Government and our economy as a whole.

I want to make one comment on a point made by the honourable member for Kingston. The honourable member said that the Minister for Health was not interested in the conditions of work of nurses and other related matters. He said that the Minister was more interested in his own personal standing, because he had asked somebody to apologise for a statement made before being prepared to interview a certain group. If a Minister is told by somebody that he is not interested in certain conditions which apply to people, that statement is' not ' a very good foundation for discussions between the Minister and the people concerned. If it is implied that Minister is not concerned with particular aspects of his portfolio but that he administers a portfolio only because he desires what one might call the honour and privileges attached to it, then I think that that Minister would be entitled to ask for an apology before entering into discussions.

I think there is justification for considering all the matters put forward by the nurses in their case but 1 oppose direct political intervention. The Government has established the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and other groups and organisations and they are the channels through which these people should proceed in an effort to have their claims accepted.

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