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Opening of Casurina hospital - Darwin

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I am delighted to be here today to open this magnificient new hospital complex. .

There is no doubt that it will serve the people of Darwin and the Northern Territory long and well. In fact, the opening of Casuarina Hospital is a milestone in the development of the Northern Territory's health services. It represents a significant step towards creating a complete health system

for the Northern Territory.

But the good health and well-being of people, at different times in their lives, is- best served in a variety of ways. ■ Good hospitals and doctors are very much a part of that - service. But a high standard of care for the elderly, the handicapped and those in the variety of x-zays is actually


I believe the Commonwealth, in the provision of health services for Territorians meets its reponsibility in these areas. For example, the Commonwealth recognised nearly a decade ago ' the need for a modern hospital in Darwin. And Jim Forbes who was Minister for Health in the Commonwealth at that time

is here with us today. But, like so much else in Darwin, the project was for a while a victim of Cyclone Tracy, that then set construction back very significantly.

But if the wait has been a long one, I think that you will agree it has been worthwhile. For, as a fully equipped, specialised hospital, it stands at the pinnacle of the Territory's health care system with its provision of advanced diagnostic and

treatment facilities.

It effectively removes the need for Territorians to travel interstate for most specialised treatment. And instead, that treatment will now be available in your own town, for those from Darwin in the territory of Territorians, close to family and

close to friends. It is not indulging in rhetoric to speak of this as a magnificent complex.

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The facilities at this hospital are worthy of any major hospital anywhere, and include a full range of the modern 'amenities.

However, it. is important, I think, to realise that Casuarina, like other hospitals of its size, is not cheap to build or to operate. Indeed, when the Casuarina hospital project was approved in principle by Cabinet, I think in 1971, the estimated cost was $21 million. I can imagine the reaction to Cabinet of the final cost of about $100 million was put on the submission. Our good friend Jim Forbes might have got a more rugged ride

v/ith his (inaudible) .

But in the end the cost was almost $100 million. And I think it is important to say ' something about that in this particular · . . instance, because there are some things that the end result

can be very good. But the way you get to· the result might not be as good as perhaps it should be.

But if I am advised that, from the beginning, the design of . Casuarina was a translation of the Woden Hospital in Canberra to Darwin. And I am not sure that again that it is easy to •have wisdom in hindsight. That taking the design from Canberra' .

and applying that to Darwin fas necessarily proved to be the best way of getting approved quality hospital suitable for Darwin's needs in a different climate and somewhat different circumstances. ' · ·

We know that the hospital is not fully utilised and won't be · for a number of years, and there never would have been an option of building a hospital that would be fully utilised now but with inbuilt capacity for expansion, but ..a different

course was taken.

Undeniably Governments have a responsibility to provide modern facilities which will meet present and future needs in the best possible way. But we also have a responsibility to safe­ guard the dollars that have to pay for those facilities which have to be taken from taxpayers. And to see that the taxpayer ' also gets full value for the dollars the Governments of different times spend on their behalf. And I am not sure that over the ten years we fulfil that obligation in this instance as well , perhaps as we should. That does not detract from the excellent

facilities that are provided here, and the community needs that will be excellently met by this facility.

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But I thought that it was important just to fire one or two gentle warning shots over the bows of(inaud) in relation to the costs that they attached to projects all which have to be paid for one way or another. And that is why I wanted

to make that point.

And I am Sure that Territorians are thankful that the project was undertaken prior to the opening of self-government, for obvious reasons. The operating costs of Casuarina hospital in this financial year is roughly $24 million, and that is ·

shared between the Commonwealth and the Territory on a 50/50 basis, as is the case with the costs in other States. And that in itself is a very substantial cost indeed. Half a million dollars a week for the maintenance and operation of a hospital. ' '

In many ways the adequacy of any health system must, in the ' end, be judged by the extent to which, in its support of other . welfare measures, it provides for those in the community who have certain needs. .

And in particular, our commitment to the elderly, to the handicapped, the disadvantaged people was as I believe confirmed by the extent of services that are provided in these areas. .

We have retained bulk-billing arrangements for pensioners and we have introduced bulk-billing arrangements for disadvantaged people in the community right throughout Australia. And those ■

arrangements as I am advised are working well. We recently extended pensioner .benefit entitlements to sickness beneficiaries. And we provide additional protection for the aged and the chronically ill by contributing much greater sums than formerly

to the reinsurance trust account. One of the greatest needs for elderly people in the community is for reasonably priced suitable accommodation and care. And that is provided in Australia in a number of ways.

Through nursing home benefits, which enable patients, eligible patients to have some of their pension left over for personal expenditure. With an additional benefit payable to patients requiring extensive care. We have agreed that in past years'

to meet the agreed operating deficits of approved non-profit nursing homes, so that fees can be kept at reasonable levels.

And grants have been provided over many years now to voluntary organisations and local government bodies for the construction, ' extension or purchase of homes and hostel accommodation for aged and disabled people. In the last four or five years over

1100 projects have been approved for these purposes, and in recent times there have been approvals in Darwin for the Northern Territory Pensioners' Association., and. in addition to that funds are made available to enable aged and disabled ■ people to live comfortably in their own homes, and there to

receive the care and attention from their families or organisations

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And I think one of the moves, and care for the elderly and care for the in certain forms of illness and even in terminal illnesses in many instances will be to provide the capacity for care to be provided in people's homes and some innovating work is being undertaken on an experimental basis as well as

in a practical way to help achieve this to a much greater extent than has been possible in the past.

And support for these purposes has been considerably expanded over recent years. Initiative of these kinds meet our concern that dignity and a proper standard of living is the right of elderly Australians. I may add that if the Chief Minister can say something about railways and opening of a hospital

I can say something about one or two other things also that are related to the purposes of a hospital.

We are aslo determined that the significant assets and potential for growth possessed by people with disabilities right throughout the Australian community should be cultivated through the provision of appropriate opportunities in the proper environment. You know, so often in the past, people with mental or physically handicapped have in a sense been put aside from the community

to live apart, separate, and I think much more now we are coming to a broad understanding that if they are to lead rewarding lives with the dignity and self-esteem for themselves there is much that can be done to encourage them to participate in the broader

community and to take part and to contribute in that community in a realistic and in a practical way. And I am quite sure that Governments in all countries are moving in that direction, voluntary organisations are moving very much in that direction,

this next year is the international year of disabled persons, and that will provide new initiatives and I would hope a new commitment, not just from people who are interested in care in these particular areas, but a commitment under the whole

community for that kind of change, and there is an enormous amount that can be done. There is"a story of somebody very severely disabled and handicapped and born that way, (inaud) in a wheelchair, John Hickman, who wrote a book , "One step at a Time",

and he in that book described the story of being quite excited and somebody who had built a new shopping centre had advertised special parking space for disabled persons, so that they could

get their wheelchairs out of the car easily, and move to the shopping complex. So he drove the car up and got out of the car " and then wanted to see how he could get down to the shopping complex. But of course, the thinking had stopped at the provision

of the car park. Instead of ramps, and access to the shopping complex there were the normal steps and stairs and whatever, and so that particular shopping venture failed. But I think that story does emphasise how there is much that many different people can do in different walks of life to help disabled persons participate within the broader community to the advantage of

themselves and to the advantage of the community of which they are very much a part.

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And I would hope that the International Year of Disabled Persons will be used as something which will help to involve the Australian community much more broadly in an understanding of these particular matters, and of the way in which the whole community can assist and help people to become part of the community instead of being pushed aside in relation to it.

And, much has been done in recent times to assist in providing facilities for handicapped people in the Northern Territory and more broadly right around Australia. And you will be aware here of what has been done to assist those, especially disadvantaged And also, it is worth noting that in the Northern Territory, that

the Government, in co-operation with the Government of the Northern Territory, has tried to give special attention to people in the sparsely settled outback areas, including the special needs of Aboriginal communities. In some community ' .

nursing services for isolated areas are funded under the community health programs, as is the highly successful Aboriginal Health Programme.

And a further initiative of particular interest of Territorians is the Isolated Patients Travel and Accommodation Assistance Schem$ which aims to alleviate some of the additional costs incurred by patients who lack ready access to specialised medical service. And that, as you would , contributes to travel costs in order to provide the accommodation, and support for patients and if necessary, for an escort for the patient in addition. ,

And all of this I think represents an impressive catalogue of concern, not talking just of a Federal Government, because these services are so often supplied in co-operation with voluntary organisations, with State Governments, with the Territory Government in an impressive record of concern for

the Australian community, plying special assistance for those · who need it within our own community. .

But if these things are to be met, Government responsibilities as a whole need to be met in full, and it is not just a question of exhibiting concern in these ways, it is also a question of maintaining the broad economic environment which provides us '

with the resources to give effect to that concern. And that is a point that is sometimes missed.

And it is a strong economy that allows us to provide for the provision of the kind of benefits which should be made available to those in need, and a strong economy that provides the ■ resources and the very great resources needed for the construction and for the building of this hospital.

And I think it is worth noting that if expenditures that run ahead , out of control as they have in some past years, then our capacity to assist those in need, our capacity to provide the kind of health services that are necessary will be very greatly diminished. Well, that was one of the things which led

in earlier times to health costs from the Commonwealth rising by about 120% in one year alone, and there is no way in the world in which taxpayers' dollars can provide that sort of' increase in health care, or in any other service year after


year, because what Australia consumes, whether it is in terms of health services, in terms of personal· expenditure for yourselves and for your own families, and what Governments seek to consume through the provision of services by the

Northern Territory Government, or the Commonwealth Government, . or the State Governments, all have to be provided by the ' productive activities of Australians. .

And it is worth noting, that what Governments provide, it means that there is less for private individuals and families to spend on their own account, because what Governments provide comes out of a total productive capacity of Australia.

But, what we have here in Casuarina is very much a symbol of the new Darwin, and its services elevate the hospital facilities of Darwin to a new plane of excellence. ' It is very much a · symbol of the Darwin that has been rebuilt since Cyclone Tracy and it will provide a service to the people of this city for many, many years to come. ,

And, I am glad indeed to be able to participate in the opening of this facility , I am glad that I am here for the opening ceremony and it is the culmination of the productive efforts of so many people going back the best part of fifteen years.

It is not.only the planners and the designers, and the architects the contractors, but the many hundreds of people that have worked on this site, the-many hundreds of people who have contributed to building magnificent facility to service Darwin

and the citizens of Darwin, and of the whole of the Northern Territory. I wish all of those who will work in this city . and in this hospital, well, in particular, I am sure that the patients who will not, I am sure, voluntarily, but because

they need the care that is provided, will be helped through this hospital, will be given health care equal to any of the world, through the dedicated care and concern of the doctors and nurses and staff of the Casuarina Hospital.

And so I wish you all well, and a very great pleasure indeed in declaring the Casuarina Hospital officially open.

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