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Tuesday, 12 November 1974
Page: 2281

Senator WHEELDON (Western AustraliaMinister for Repatriation and Compensation) - I would like to comment briefly on the matters that have been raised by Senator Baume and Senator Jessop. Dealing first with the last point that was raised by Senator Baume, I am conscious and the Department is conscious of the fact that as we increase the benefits that are available to veterans- I take it that the increases in the benefits available to veterans are not being opposed- that we will obviously need more medical officers and practitioners to participate in the various services offered under the Repatriation Act. Certainly we are bearing in mind the problem that has been raised. I think it can be fairly claimed that the Department has had a good relationship with the Australian Medical Association and professional bodies. Although there have been occasions when they have not been entirely happy with the Government, I think that on the whole there have not been any heated criticisms by them of either the administration of the Department or the relationships which we have had with their members insofar as the facilities that are provided are concerned. But I do take heed of what Senator Baume has said.

With regard to the child nursing centre at the Repatriation General Hospital at Concord, New South Wales, the annual cost of maintaining the centre is estimated at some $30,000. It is estimated that we will be receiving $2 per child per week which is about $8,000 by way of fees paid by the parents and guardians of children who use the centre. In addition to this, there is a saving in overtime payments and also a saving generally for the community on the provision of outside services which are being made up by the provision of this facility at the Concord Hospital. With regard to the contretemps which appears to have developed between the Department and the AuditorGeneral, it was certainly not because of any neglect of the Department's officers but rather there was a disagreement apparently between the Department and the Auditor-General as to precisely what was the authority of the Department to enter into these activities. It was not an oversight or a negligent action; it was actually a disagreement between them. In any event, the recruiting of the SO nursing staff who are being employed additionaly because of these new arrangements was done within the framework of existing vacancies so it does so happen that the expenditure has not exceeded any budgetary limitations that had been placed on the Department. The dispute between the officers of the Department and the AuditorGeneral, I suppose, is therefore rather largely an academic dispute rather than one of any great substance although obviously the views of the AuditorGeneral have to be taken into account.

Senator Jessophas mentioned the reopening of the nursing home at Birrallee. This had been closed. I think itwas felt that there was a need for the reopening of the home. I think generally it has been accepted with some acclaim by ex-service organisations and by other people that the home has been reopened. There has been no reduction in the care which is being provided to acutely ill patients. I am in a position to give that -

Senator Jessop - But Birrallee is not open yet. I am worried about the future.

Senator WHEELDON -There will be no reduction of services. I think we can confidently say there will be no reduction. I do not know what Senator Greenwood finds so amusing about this. We can give Senator Jessop the assurance that there will be no reduction in the care which is provided to these patients. I inform Senator Jessop and Senator Greenwood who takes a lively interest in these matters that should they become aware that such has been the case, then I would certainly ask them to draw it to my attention. The administration is aware of the problems of the terrain in this area. I am afraid my knowledge of the topography of that part of Senator Jessop 's State is not great because I usually see it from an aeroplane, and not as closely as he does while he is engaged in his parochial duties.

Consideration interrupted.

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