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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 8 Hansard (25 August) . . Page.. 2423 ..

MR SPEAKER: I call the house to order. Mr Stanhope has the floor.

MR STANHOPE: Thank you.

At 5.00 pm the debate was interrupted in accordance with standing order 34; the motion for the adjournment of the Assembly having been put and negatived, the debate was resumed.

MR STANHOPE: Mr Speaker, I do not think it can be gainsaid that in relation to those bare facts - the reduction of such a significant part of the work force at Canberra Hospital - the nurses have a legitimate claim to put to their employers, as do all workers have claims in relation to work practices, claims in relation to wages and claims in relation to extra pressure as a result of work. They have a right to put these issues and they have a right to have them negotiated seriously. They have a right to claim a wage rise, if only to catch up with the everyday effects of inflation.

Nurses also have a legitimate claim to be consulted over staffing levels. They have a legitimate claim to be consulted about the way in which gaps in staffing are filled. The nurses are the workers at the coalface of the hospital. They are the ones who are most aware of the impact made by the cuts to hospital services by the Government.

In the context of a debate such as this, it is also relevant - and no doubt we are all aware of this - that in the 1995 election campaign one of the key planks of the Carnell Liberals' platform was a promise to expand the public hospital system to 1,000 beds by this year. It is always interesting to visit recent history. Only four years ago the Carnell Liberals ran to an election on a promise of 1,000 beds by the end of this year. The promise was to expand the system, not to shut down beds. It is interesting to reflect on that in terms of what we are doing with our public health system and what we as a community need to do and what we as a community should expect of our public hospital and our public health system. (Extension of time granted)

The response of the Carnell Liberal Government - or the Carnell-Moore Liberal Government, as it now is - to continue to reduce the system has been a reflection of this Government's inability to capably manage the Canberra Hospital budget. Year after year the budget blows out, and year after year Mrs Carnell and Mr Moore shut down more beds. Year after year the demands are greater on the front-line workers, the nurses.

Most recently, as we know, the Government has capped the hospital budget. We are all very aware of the difficulties that the Government has had with its budget and - this is the point I made before - it has given the hospital management its riding instructions: No increases in staffing levels to relieve the hospital's stretching seams and no pay rises to the workers who bear the brunt of the impact.

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