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Australian hospital nursing schools joint announcement: speech at St George Private Hospital, Sydney.

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14 September 2007




Ladies and gentlemen, my colleague and friend Tony Abbott and I are here today to make a very important announcement about providing further choice and an additional pathway for Australians who want to become nurses. Can I start by thanking the management and staff of the St George Private Hospital for allowing us to come here to make this important announcement and to take the opportunity of saying that both of us regard providing good health services in this country as being a partnership between the public and the private hospital systems. We don’t see public and private medicine as being in competition but we see public and private medicine being in partnership to provide good health outcomes for all Australians. And I salute the contribution that the private hospital sector is making to providing good health outcomes for Australia.

Can I also say that with all of the criticisms people from time to time make about our health system, the Australian health system is still better than any health system anywhere else in the world and we should never lose sight of that reality; and it is greatly sustained by the men and women, the nurses, the doctors, the administrators and the other paramedics who are so important to it.

But this announcement I have today represents the provision for the future of a new stream of training and opportunity and choice for people who want to become nurses. We are desperately short of nurses and we need to provide new opportunities for people, practical, on the ground opportunities for people, so that that shortage can be addressed.


I stress that the announcement I make today in no way represents any withdrawal of Federal Government support for the training of nurses through the university stream, and I will come back to that matter later. It represents an additional opportunity for people to become nurses.

What we are going to do is to provide $170 million over a period of five years to create 25 Australian Hospital Nursing Schools and essentially what that means is that the Federal Government will fund individual hospitals, either public or private, we’ll adopt the same approach irrespective of whether it is a public or a private hospital; for them to provide training facilities within the hospitals themselves for people training to become enrolled nurses.

And that will mean that the people who want to train to become enrolled nurses will go straight into on-the-job, practical training from the very time they show a desire to become a nurse. It will be available for any young Australian who has completed year 10, that is essentially from 16 years onwards. The Commonwealth Government will provide by way of financial support to the participating hospitals the money provided to help the hospital establish the infrastructure either by turning an existing facility

into effectively a lecture or classroom, or perhaps in certain cases adding an additional building to provide the training.

We will fund four full-time clinical training staff at the participating hospitals, in other words, we will fully pay for four people who will assist with the training of the trainee nurses from the moment they enter the hospital. In addition, for the first three

months of a trainee’s time at a hospital, the Federal Government will provide funding by way of a wage subsidy of $500 a week, recognising that in the early months of somebody working in a hospital without any previous experience of a hospital, some subsidy is necessary. And that will be for a period of three months so that people during that initial period of time can be supported in their decision to take on the trainees.

We’re going to provide a $1,500 commencement bonus for each person who decides to be a trainee in this system to become an enrolled nurse, and a $2,500 completion bonus per student paid to each hospital nursing school. And then we’ll have the, plus the direct payments to the students, and these are a tax free bonus of $2,000 after the first six months and a further tax free bonus of $3,000 on completion.

Now the whole aim of this scheme is to provide an additional choice stream opportunity for people to become nurses. It is not designed in any way to undermine the existing university system. It is to provide an add-on, an extra opportunity, a different way, a way in which people can immediately, if when they leave school they say I want to be a nurse, they can go straight into a hospital through this stream and be supported immediately. And they’ll get the training, and what the participating hospitals will do is to enter into a training arrangement with a training provider and that can be a TAFE college, it can be a private provider, it can even be a university, and they will provide the training for the diploma or advanced level diploma courses and they’re expected to take about 18 months. And nothing will stop a person who might enter this at the age of 16 or 17 completing the course and then, of course, going on to do other qualifications. But the beauty of this is that people can go straight into a hospital and get some practical on the ground experience and get it over


an intensive period of time and if they then decide well I don’t want to be a nurse after all, well they don’t. But on the other hand, they will get a taste very early of what it is like, and some of the experience with the existing system is that the retention rates are not quite as high as they might be. But it’s adding another stream. I saw one report in the paper that said it was going to replace the university system, that’s not right. It’s

not replacing anything. It is an additional opportunity.

And I think it is a very practical response to the shortage of nurses, and I have lost count of the number of people who have sort of buttonholed me as I have gone around the country, I go to the morning teas all over the country, I was bailed up in Western Australia recently by a lady who had been in the nursing profession all her life, she said why don’t you go back to having nurses full time trained at hospitals? So I listened very carefully to what she had to say. Now this is not everything that she recommended to me, but gee, I think she’d be pretty close. I think I have still got her name and address somewhere, in Western Australia. I think I’ll send her a copy of my press release. But it is one of these cases where I think we made a bit of a mistake in moving away entirely from the option of having immediate on the job training and on the job experience. And just as we made a few mistakes with technical education some years ago I think we probably made a bit of a mistake.

But this is an extra stream, it in no way is designed to undermine the existing university system and could I just point out to you that since 2005 my Government has provided support for 3,700 additional nursing training places at universities and that’s going to grow to 10,000 by the year 2012. So in no way are we going to withdraw any support for that. But I think this is a beaut addition. It will I am sure be very popular because it provides and immediate opportunity for people to get on the job experience and training. And it is, I stress, available for both public and private hospitals. It’s a matter for the state governments to decide whether any public hospitals are involved. I hope they do because we’re not discriminating, we want to provide these 25 to start with, my suspicion is that they will be very popular and we’ll end up providing more than 25 as time goes by because I think this is an option a lot of people will pick up.

But that’s it ladies and gentlemen. My friend here might want to add something to it. But I’m quite enthusiastic about this, I’ve been thinking about it for some time and it’s a practical plan for the future of nursing. It gives people immediate opportunities, additional opportunities and greater choice and that’s what I think will be attractive about it. Tony.


Well thanks very much PM and also I’d like to thank the hospital, the management and particularly the staff for making themselves available and giving us the opportunity to make this important announcement here at St George. You know nurses are the heart of our health system, certainly they’re the heart of our hospital

system and we wouldn’t have the great health system that we do have in this country without the 200,000 nurses who make it work. Now we do have some problems at the moment. Not enough people want to stay in nursing and part of the difficulty is that there aren’t enough nurses who want to be nurses, and that’s what this course is about. It’s for nurses who really want to be nurses. You’ll be in the nursing world from day


one of your course and everyday of your course will be in a hospital surrounded by other nurses. So it’s traditional in one sense but it will be the most modern training in good hospitals, well rewarded and resourced thanks to the Commonwealth Government. So I’m really pleased to be part of this and like the Prime Minister I’ve certainly had any number of people say to me over the last four years, it’s very, very

important that you get our nurse trainees back in to the hospitals and that’s what this is all about.


Mr Howard can we just ask you, what sort of consultation was there with the nursing profession before this plan was unveiled?


Well there was a lot of consultation with health professionals. There wasn’t consultation with the nurses federation, but….and I’m disappointed that they’ve come out against it, although I noticed that the AMA has expressed its support and also the private hospitals have expressed their support. But I believe there’s been quite a lot of consultation over time with people involved in the medical profession and I think those consultations have indicated that there’s quite strong support.


This is not something that the nursing profession itself has been asking for is it?


Well individual nurses have. When you talk about the nursing profession I think you can only be talking about the nurses federation, the union, well they don’t always talk for all nurses, any more than any other union talks for all its members and as I think you know there are issues in just relying entirely on what a union says about the attitude of people working in an area and there are plenty of individual nurses and many health professionals over the years that I’ve spoken to who have expressed very strong support for this. So when I talk about consultation…I’m talking about the, union, but as for the broader profession, yes, there has been and there has been a lot of support expressed.


Prime Minister after all the issues of the last couple of days, speculation, you’ve often talked about setting out a direction for the country, that’s one of your goals for the way forward, this is one of those key planks is it?


Well this is very much a practical way forward for nursing in this country. This is a way of providing a new choice for people who want to be nurses. It’s a proposal that’s been in contemplation and germination for some time and it seems to me that the proposal that I’ve outlined, it adds an option. See I talk often about a full employment


society in this country, and I think full employment is within our reach over the next three years, but when I talk about full employment I don’t mean people, just everybody who wants a job getting a job, but it’s everybody who wants a job getting a

job of their choice. And the great thing about this is that if somebody in the last years of being at school decides they want to be a nurse, the great thing about this is that they can start being a nurse from day one and at the same time get training on the job, and get good support from the very beginning, good financial support to undertake and to exercise that choice, they don’t have to spend a large number of years without that immediate on the job experience. I’m not saying that under the existing university system you don’t have some on the job training, but it’s a lot less than what is contemplated by this. Now that might suit some people, and that’s good and we’re not going to touch that, but this will suit other people and we’re introducing it as an option. And I would regard the number of options that are now available through this as being very, very effective.


Mr Howard looking at your own job prospects, are you happy with your personal approval rating at the moment?


Look I haven’t come here to talk about me, I’ve come here to talk about nurses and the health system.


Do you think your constituents understand the commitment that you’re offering to them for the next term?


I think they do, particularly those who understand the commitment I’ve delivered over the last three years. But I’m quite happy to talk about other issues a bit later after we’ve had a cup of tea because I’d like to talk to the folk here for a minute, thanks.