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Tuesday, 12 November 1974
Page: 2280

Senator BAUME (New South Wales) -During the discussion of Senate Estimates Committee E a number of questions came up which I think should be mentioned for the consideration of the Committee of the Whole. It is apparent from examining the estimates in division 462 that there is a shortage of trained staff in Australian repatriation institutions. On questioning the departmental representatives present at the Committee hearing there was no indication that they saw a means of finding the doctors, nursing staff or other professional staff which will be needed to fill the positions and to adequately look after the veterans who are in receipt of repatriation benefits. The information which we received from Mr Kelly who helped us at the Estimates Committee hearing was that 23 specialist doctor positions were vacant out of a total establishment of 1 14. That is a very large percentage of vacancies in that part of the repatriation establishment. There is a considerable shortage of nursing sisters and associated nursing staff such as nursing aides. Mr Kelly commented further that if we looked at all the associated skills such as paramedical skills which go to make up the proper functioning of a repatriation hospital or department, we would see considerable shortages of staff. I think it is important when we look at the estimates to realise that they are based on the establishment being fulfilled. But at the moment there seems very little likelihood that we will reach that happy situation. In the present situation there is a shortage of trained staff in the service of repatriation hospitals.

I mention that we can come back to this theme later when we consider the estimates for the Department of Health because a similar situation exists. For example, in the Northern Territory there is a great deficiency in the staff available to fill the positions which are available on establishment. That is one of the matters of which I think this Committee should be aware.

There is another matter which concerns the procedures which the Department adopts for the spending of money and the criticisms made of those procedures by the Auditor-General. This matter was raised by our Committee. If honourable senators look at the Hansard of Estimates Committee E they will see at page 190 that quite a discussion took place on the criticism made by the Auditor-General. I again draw to the attention of the Committee that money was expended at the Repatriation General Hospital, Concord, to provide a child minding centre. This is obviously an admirable kind of service to provide. It was made clear by the departmental officers that it was provided to help in recruiting staff to hospitals. I have already agreed that there is a shortage of staff and that we should do whatever we can. But the AuditorGeneral has commented that this child minding centre was established without appropriate authority from the Public Service Board. We had quite a discussion on the Department's attitude with Mr Kelly who was advising us. Mr Kelly stated:

The answer is that in our view the authority was there for it . . .

The Auditor-General's view was that the authority was not there for it. I am not arguing with the provision of the service. I think it is excellent. But I want to raise for the consideration of the Committee the fact that a service was set up before appropriate authority had been obtained to authorise staffing. 1 understand it was done on a temporary basis by moving staff from other positions but I would like to be sure that the Department, in spending money in the future, will do so within the limits set by the Auditor-General and with the approval of the Public Service Board when it fills positions in its service.

The only other point I wish to make refers to that item in division 466 concerning payments made to local medical officer and ancillary medical services. We are in danger in Australia at the moment of large numbers of doctors resigning from the services where they offer concessional care to increasing numbers of Australians. I want to sound a word of warning that if we continue to increase entitlements to repatriation benefits without adequate consultation with, for example, the medical profession more doctors, particularly doctors in country towns and in isolated areas, will cease to make themselves available to give care to repatriation patients. This is something that has to be watched very closely when the Minister, for example, is seeking to widen the basic cover which can be offered to veterans. There must be adequate consultation with the health professions because a lot of doctors have told me privately that they are not happy with the way in which additional people can become entitled to concessional care with minimum consultation with them or with their professional colleagues.

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