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Wednesday, 20 May 1970

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - We have listened this afternoon to tirades of criticism from a number of members of the Opposition, and I refer particularly to the last 2 Opposition members who have spoken. I remind honourable members that if the Australian Labor Party had considered this matter to be of such importance and had really been on the side of the nurses, as it has been claiming and stamping about this afternoon, it could have easily had this debate on a day when the Parliament was being broadcast. This in effect would have ensured that the nurses' cause would have been promoted to a far greater extent than it has been today, but the Opposition did not do this. Yesterday afternoon I crossed the road in front of Parliament House and stood for a few minutes listening to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) when he was addressing a gathering of nurses. He ranted and raved in what was very much a political speech.

It is all very well for someone to stand up in this Parliament and say that nurses should be given more money, when he knows full well that this matter has been decided by the Full Court and is being raised again, and not tell the truth. The fact is that the Government is unable to interfere, even if it subscribed in every way to the claims of the nurses, because this is the whole process of our democratic system. It was so appropriate yesterday that the Leader of the Opposition, when finishing off his address, said:

Girls, there is one way you can do something about this. On 30th May-

We heard the girls say: 'Here it comes.'. Then there was a message to vote for some Labor candidate who had recently been endorsed by that Party for the coming byelection. I might remind honourable members opposite that the previous member for the Australian Capital Territory was the late Mr Jim Fraser, a man whom we all held in great respect. If the Leader of the Opposition thinks that the nurses arc so naive as to accept his suggestion, no wonder the Australian Labor Party has lost 9 Federal elections in a row.

The honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden), the shadow Minister for Health, presented a fairly statistical type of address today, with figures and comparisons of our nursing system with those of other countries. The honourable member for Oxley often contributes to this House without a written note but today he had a prepared speech. I heard one of my colleagues ask: Who wrote that for you?' but the honourable member seemed to ignore it. I am very sympathetic towards the nursing profession. When I was some years younger I spent just over 12 months in a Queensland hospital. I came to admire very much the work and dedication of the nurses. I frankly would not like the sort of life that they lead - with broken hours, commencing duty in the early hours of the morning with a first shift of 3 or 4 hours, then a few hours off in the middle of the day, and then coming back at 4 or 5 o'clock in the afternoon. Their day is broken up and they never have time to call their own. The nurses in Queensland had to return to the hospital by 12 o'clock at night. They were like Cinderellas. On a Saturday night the matron was especially generous and allowed them out until 12.15 a.m. That does not happen as frequently as it used to. I would not wish that sort of life on anybody. That is the type of conditions that nurses work under.

The honourable member for Oxley referred to the high percentage of losses of nurses to the profession once they graduate. This is quite a normal happening. After what I saw yesterday my opinion has not changed. Nurses are On the whole a bunch of very attractive women. The normal process is for girls such as these to get married. One honourable member suggested that more should be done to attract these nurses back into the profession later on in life. Perhaps more attention should be paid to bringing them back into the nursing profession once they have raised their families. The loss of nurses is a normal thing. 1 refer to the speech made by the honourable member for Kingston (Dr Gun) who suggested -that the Commonwealth Government should interfere in advancing the aims of nursing groups. The honourable member d:d not tell the House that it would be unconstitutional to interfere with State matters and rights. It is not a matter of just giving money to the States. The States get their money from the general revenue grant. State expenditure on hospital maintenance is moving in proportion to the moves in amounts of general revenue grants. Perhaps we might look at this a little closer. 1 suggest that in this area the States should be allocating an improving percentage of their resources to hospitalisation. We are fully aware that throughout Australia in recent years there has been an improvement in the area of nursing aides. If the honourable member for Kingston is honest - ] have no reason at this point of time to believe that he is not; he has been here only a little while, and as time passes we will find out - he will recognise that fact. Clerical assistance is being introduced slowly and helpers are employed to do the more menial tasks for the nurses. 1 support the improvement and trust that the process will continue at a much more rapid rate.

The honourable member for Barton (Mr Reynolds) has been the most inaccurate speaker here today. He made the claim at the beginning that this Parliament only some days ago set the salaries of the doctors by adopting the new health scheme, lt is a pity that the honourable member did not understand the Bil that was introduced. The doctors' salaries are determined by the patients who choose to attend their surgeries. Furthermore, the Government has only agreed with the representatives of the profession as to what is the most common fee charged. Contrary to the claims of the honourable member for Barton, the Government has not set these figures. The honourable member said that the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) passed the buck to the Slates, yet he did not say what the Commonwealth should be doing. At least the honourable member for Kingston had the audacity to say that the Government should act on an unconstitutional basis, but the honourable member for Barton made not one suggestion.

We on the Government side recognise that the standards of nursing need lifting. Looking back to recent years we recall that the basic training for a nurse took 4 years. Throughout Australia today it takes 3 years, except in some hospitals in South Australia where it can range up to 4 years. In Toronto recently I visited a couple of lasses who had left Australia as fully qualified nurses. In Canada their qualifications were not recognised. I subscribe fully to the need for improvement in this area. I do not believe that the wording suggested by the Opposition - of the grave and deteriorating state - is fully justified. Investigations have been carried out and reports made over the last 3 or 4 years which have been submitted to the various State governments. These underline some of the failings in our nursing system. I hope that the Minister for Health, while he cannot directly interfere as some of the Opposition members would suggest because it would be unconstitutional, will work in closely with the State Health Ministers to try to bring about an agreement on what is an acceptable standard of nursing training throughout Australia.

As I said, the Government is most definitely not opposed to the aspirations and hopes of the nurses. In a changing society where the standard of education is rising, it is only right that these young lasses should be assisted in every way possible to upgrade their standard so that they can take their place in the world in a very worthy profession.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Hallett)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.

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