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1998 Australian Catholic Health Care Association's Conference, Melbourne, Monday, 1 June 1998: address on the occasion of the opening.

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Let me commence by saying what a pleasure it is for Helen and me to be here this afternoon for the Official Opening o f the 1998 Australian Catholic Health Care Association’s Conference.

Our knowledge o f - and admiration for - the overall Catholic Health Care system have progressively increased during the more than 2 Ά years that I have been Governor- General In that time, we have opened or visited a very large number o f hospitals, hospital facilities and aged care complexes run by the major Catholic congregations in both metropolitan and rural areas in the various States and Territories. Increasingly, we have become aware o f the extraordinary contribution to the individual and collective well being o f our nation which is made by the Catholic hospitals and health and aged care facilities. And we have also become increasingly conscious o f the problems and challenges which they face and o f the importance o f the theme o f this Conference, namely, “ Partnerships in Ministry” .

That theme builds upon the strengths o f Integration 2000 the vision by which the various congregations and Dioceses are moving towards closer collaboration, co-operation and resource sharing. It is partly a matter o f maximising cost-effectiveness and efficiencies to ensure viability in the competitive delivery o f health and aged care services; partly a matter o f meeting changing public demand and government funding expectations; partly a matter o f responding to internal changes within the congregation-based ministries, including, o f course, the declining participation in the actual delivery o f health care by religious personnel

The great challenge is to ensure that, whilst responding to the need for structural reform, the identity and mission o f each o f the various ministries are retained and strengthened On the one hand, it is important that the collective resources o f the Catholic health and aged care system work more inter-dependently in the interests both o f the broader church and o f the community as a whole At the same time, it is equally important that we preserve and strengthen the particular charisma that each o f the congregations brings to its own ministry o f love and service to the sick, the afflicted, the aged and the disadvantaged


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The overwhelming impression that we have gained from our many visits to Catholic hospitals, health facilities and aged care projects has been that, while you are certainly responding to the process o f both external and internal change, there has clearly been a successful safeguarding o f the compassion and dedication given to those in your care Underlying that, o f course, is the continuing determination o f the congregations to control and shape the future o f Catholic health care The Sisters and Brothers are on the boards and governing bodies o f the various institutions They are planning and overseeing the way in which the future should be and is being met And they are doing it with a mixture o f dedication to their values, their standards and their mission o f outreach and an informed and practical responsiveness to the needs and challenges o f the times

Indeed, that has been the case from the very beginnings o f the Catholic health care system in Australia This year is not only the 20lh Anniversary o f the first National Catholic Health Care Conference - also held in Melbourne, incidentally - it also marks 160 years since the arrival o f the pioneer Sisters o f Charity in Sydney in 1838, one o f whom, Sister Baptise de Lacey, founded St Vincent’s Hospital in 1857. In 1846, only 8 years after the arrival o f the Sisters o f Charity in Sydney, the first Sisters o f Mercy arrived in Perth to begin their Australian ministry

Thus, within a decade, the Catholic mission o f healing to the sick and the disadvantaged was established on both sides o f the continent It is a tradition that continues to the present day It is a mission o f service that in many cases identifies with and reaches out to areas o f un-met need and finds new paths to get there. Often unheralded. Quietly getting on with the job, in acts o f “ silent, persistent dedication” , if I may use the words o f your Executive Director, Francis Sullivan Thus, we think o f the leprosarium conducted by the Sisters o f St John o f God; the work among the indigenous peoples o f our nation and the homeless, and, more recently, the compassionate program o f service by St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, to people at risk o f HIV-Aids. That program, which 1 have visited and discussed with the outstanding medical staff involved in it, has set a world benchmark o f excellence and o f compassion

From those simple beginnings 160 years ago, the Catholic health system has grown to meet the changing needs and demands o f the Australian community to the point where it is now the largest non-government provider o f health and welfare services to the sick, the aged, the disadvantaged It is a system that has seen an enormous investment o f human and financial resources by the religious congregations Currently, the value o f assets employed is estimated at some $5 billion while the total number o f employees is approximately 20,000 people It is a system that maintains over 3,000 beds in some 22 public hospitals, over 5,000 beds in 35 private hospitals, and some 17,000 beds in around 500 aged care services. Altogether, Catholic health care constitutes some 10-13% o f the overall Australian health system, and around 27% o f the private hospital sector - much more, in fact, o f the larger, high-tech private hospitals

Now, in the contemporary climate o f change and competitiveness in the delivery o f services, the Catholic health care system is also required to respond and adapt, whilst acknowledging the need to maintain and enhance its identity and mission o f care. As you all know, for an institution to be wholly independent in the new health and aged care system, is to face an increasingly uncertain future. Hence the premise o f the Integration 2000 vision, that the most promising way forward is to be found in a move to greater inter­ dependency and collaboration by the ministries . to form alliances and networks with

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like-minded providers, and thus ensure, through prudent co-operation and management, that services are not only maintained but grow and develop to meet new needs and new demands.

Thus, over the past 2 years, the leaders and owners have undertaken an exhaustive process o f consultation about the structures needed for the new millennium This consultation has taken place on a number o f fronts There has been the establishment o f the national leadership formation program for health and aged providers, known as EDUCARE (Latin pronunciation) There has been a much greater awareness on the need for local collaboration In fact a number o f new co-operative projects are under way In Brisbane, the Sisters o f Charity and the Sisters o f the I loly Spirit are jointly building a new hospital In Melbourne, the Sisters o f Mercy and the Sisters o f Charity have collaborated in a new venture to merge their private hospitals There is a strong national voice on matters o f aged and health care advocacy.

This Conference, “ Partnerships for Ministry", w ill carry the movement forward I know that the findings o f the consultation process w ill be presented to you, and there will be a concentration o f minds and prayers as to how the theological, philosophical and practical implications o f the response to change can best be extended to meet the needs o f both church and community Your keynote speaker, Patricia Cahill, President and CEO o f Catholic Health Initiatives in the United States, has great experience in the field and w ill have much to offer you. The response by delegates is an indication o f the significance you attach to the Conference and the broad themes you w ill address

May 1 reiterate Helen’s and my profound admiration and strong support for the work, the commitment and the Christian mission o f service to the sick and the aged that you undertake. That mission is, o f course, central to the mission o f outreach to the poor, the vulnerable and the disadvantaged which lies at the heart o f the modern Universal Christian Church. May your work flourish and may you all find fulfilment in it And may this Conference be a fruitful and rewarding one

And now, with great pleasure, I officially declare the 1998 Conference o f the Australian Catholic Health Care Association, “ Partnerships for Ministry” to be officially open