Page 1369 - Week 05 - Tuesday, 5 April 2005

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DR FOSKEY (Molonglo) (5.07): I am voting in support of Appropriation Bill 2004-2005 (No 2) because much of the expenditure is necessary and unavoidable. However, I would like to make some comments about specific items included in the bill.

My greatest concern and interest in this bill is the impact of public sector wage rises on community sector wage parity. I raised this issue with the Minister for Industrial Relations at the hearings and was pleased that it has been flagged as a matter of concern for this government to address during this term. I understand that work has commenced with the community sector task force that will work with community providers with regard to issues of wages, conditions and retention of staff. I also understand that the Treasurer and the Minister for Health have indicated that this is a matter for the upcoming budget. The Greens will be watching this with interest.

I sincerely hope that the government is genuine in addressing wage parity across the public and community sectors. Community organisations have a critical role in providing social support and delivering essential services. They should not continue to be undermined and devalued by wage increases in the public sector that are not matched by funding increases for the community sector. This is particularly salient in the ACT where there is strong competition for talented people across commonwealth and ACT public sectors, often resulting in the loss of some of the best people from the community sector.

I do support well-supported wage increases for government employees in sectors such as health and education, but I believe that these should be matched by increases in the community sector funding to ensure that wage increases are possible for people undertaking comparable work in the community sector. I wait with interest to see how the government proposes to address this issue.

In relation to the very large appropriation for the department of health: I believe this is further evidence that major and systemic problems in our health system are not being adequately addressed. In response to a question put to him in the public accounts committee hearing, the health minister stated that there had been no adverse situations resulting in risk to patients as a result of workload pressures on health workers.

Yet, in response to a question on notice, the same health minister reported that nursing staff at the Canberra Hospital are working an equivalent of 32 full-time equivalent positions every day and medical staff are working an equivalent of 38 full-time equivalent positions per day. This is an additional 1.25 hours per week for every nurse and an additional 5.8 hours per week for every medical officer. This indicates an unsustainable level of workload pressure, creating a situation in which people are much more likely to make mistakes and unlikely to be able to deliver the standard of service that they would like to provide.

I have had representations from constituents who recently had very poor experiences with the Canberra Hospital, and this is likely to be related to pressures on staff. In one instance, a family was quite distraught over the treatment of their elderly mother. This woman, too unwell to feed herself, was left food that she could not eat. It was subsequently removed without anyone realising that she had not eaten it. Furthermore, the family felt left out of care planning and observed on a number of occasions that good

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