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Tuesday, 26 November 1985
Page: 2225

Senator REYNOLDS —Has the Minister for Education seen recent reports in the Queensland Press that the transfer of nurse education from hospitals to colleges will be an unnecessary burden on the State Government? Will the Minister clarify the Federal Government's commitment to nurse education, and will she also comment on progress being made with the State Government to ensure that Queensland nurses benefit from Federal initiatives to upgrade their professional status?

Senator RYAN —There has been a lot of misleading comment on the nurse education policy being implemented by our Government, and, of course, it will not be a surprise to Senator Reynolds or to any other senators that much of the misleading comment is coming from Queensland. Some similarly misleading comment has been coming from Tasmania, too. The facts of the matter regarding the costs of nurse training are these: The State governments have borne both the capital and the recurrent costs of nurse training. Had there been no movement or development of policy towards transferring nurse training from hospitals to colleges of advanced education, the States would have continued to bear 100 per cent of capital and recurrent costs for nurse training. The Commonwealth contributes to those costs through the States Grants (Health) Act. However, in response to a very long-standing campaign by nurses throughout Australia, the Commonwealth decided to develop and implement the policy of transferring primary nurse training from hospitals to colleges of advanced education.

During the period when this transfer will be phased in-it is currently planned that the transfer will be complete by 1993; that is, the last hospital-based nurse will transfer in 1990-the Federal Government will contribute to the additional costs to the States of the new form of training. Never at any time did the Commonwealth suggest that it would take over the entire cost at this stage. That would have been quite uncalled for since the States are already funded, through State health grants, to train nurses. But because there will be additional costs with the transfer, the Commonwealth agreed to contribute to those additional costs.

The contribution that we are prepared to make is, I think, quite generous and certainly quite realistic. We are contributing to the cost per student in a CAE an amount which, in 1984 prices, was $1,500 per student but which is considerably higher than that in current prices. As well as that, we are paying under the tertiary education assistance scheme for those nurse trainees in CAEs who are eligible for TEAS; we are bearing the costs of that. We are not proposing to deduct from the State health grants any of the funding which we have provided for hospital-based training and we consider it reasonable and fair that any additional costs should be met by the savings that the States ought to be able to make by no longer having to provide training in the hospitals.

In addition to these arrangements the Government is assisting State health systems to respond to the shortage of trained nurses-that is, trained nurses who are prepared to work in the nursing profession-by making re-training funds available. Until now we have made, I think, in the vicinity of $3m available for retraining. Just a few days ago, the Commonwealth Minister for Health, Dr Neal Blewett, and I jointly announced that an extra $7.6m will be available to assist-$4m of which will be available to assist in the retraining of nurses who wish to return to the nursing profession and have their skills refreshed or upgraded and $2.3m of which will be for curriculum development to assist those CAEs that are now developing a nurse curriculum to do so at the highest possible standards. Both of these moves were very warmly welcomed by the nursing profession as a further demonstration of the Commonwealth Government's commitment to upgrading the nursing profession and providing it with the same sort of professional preparation as other professions have in our community.

If a State government does not wish to take advantage of this additional funding to assist in the transfer, that is a matter for that State government to determine. We have negotiated with State governments round Australia a rate of transfer-the numbers of students to be taken on in State CAEs year by year. If the Queensland Government persists in saying that it will not engage in this transfer in a co-operative way with the Commonwealth, I am afraid that it will have to bear the wrath of the nursing profession in that State. If must be quite clear to all observers of this policy-it is certainly quite clear to the nursing profession-that the Commonwealth now has made significant extra funding available to assist with the additional funding for the transfer, that we have been very flexible in negotiating with the States with regard to the timing of the transfer and that all that remains to be done in Queensland is for that State Government to do what the vast majority of State governments throughout Australia are doing-that is, to take steps to ensure the professional upgrading of the nursing profession in that State.