Health Services Charitable Gifts Bill


Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart) (11:40): I appreciate the opportunity to talk about the Health Services Charitable Gifts Bill. Our shadow health minister (the member for Morphett) has gone into a lot of detail, and there is obviously still more to come in the committee stage. We will be supporting this bill, as he said. I support anything that ensures and improves the way that donations from the public get spent exactly where they are intended to be spent, regardless of who is in government; that is an extremely important principle. I would like to speak on this from a country and rural perspective for a few minutes.

There is a tremendous history of donating and giving for health projects, hospitals and research in South Australia, as the member for Morphett just said, and that is no better shown than in country South Australia. There have been enormous concerns about the operation of the health system in the country. As the minister knows, many people have come to me over the past few years, as a candidate and now as a member of parliament. I will not be dwelling on those at the moment but, certainly with regard to donations, people in relatively senior positions in the community have come to me with their very genuine and serious concerns that donations to hospitals in country areas have been slowing and drying up over the past year or so.

Much of that has to do with the change from hospital boards to health advisory committees (HACs), and people are telling me that, totally separate from all the other issues that exist around that change, donations are getting harder and harder to get. In the rural environment at the moment, where things are going pretty well—and we would all understand that donations wax and wane with people's ability and concerns or optimism about the economy and their own personal circumstances—certainly we are entering into a pretty good time as far as the economy goes in country areas from most primary producers' perspective—certainly not all of them, but most of them—yet donations to hospitals are drying up.

The reason for that, I am told, is that people are really concerned that their money will not be spent where they want it to be spent. I certainly support the minister if this change in legislation is going to improve that situation, because it is a very genuine concern in the country at the moment, as I have been told by many people who are involved with community health in their areas.

Another specific example of where people in rural areas (and certainly in Stuart) are very concerned about their donations going exactly where they want has to do with the transfer of St John Ambulance into the SA Ambulance Service. Very recently, ambulance officers have been telling me that they are concerned about recent changes and particularly the fact that they have been told of a change to the local ambulance brigade choosing which community events to attend (so, nothing to do with attendance at accidents or emergencies) and, in return for their voluntary attendance, as is the custom for donations (and I have been on the other side of this where I have been running community events that required an ambulance to be in attendance), receiving a donation out of the fundraising proceeds from that event specially back to that ambulance group.

Ambulance officers are telling me that they are very concerned that the money is now not going to go back to the specific ambulance group but will go into the central pool. In fact, one ambulance officer said to me that he believed that, instead of that traditional situation where volunteers turn up and then the event (whether it happens to be a gymkhana, a rodeo, a football grand final or whatever) giving a donation back, it is very likely that the South Australian Ambulance Service will actually be asking for a fee for attendance and the money would go back into the central pool. That is something that requires further investigation, but I can assure everybody present that that information has come to me first-hand. This is another example where people are concerned that money that is donated may not be used exactly where they intended it to be used.

I was also told very recently of a person who is a very generous donator. Instead of donating cash to a hospital, for fear that the money might end up somewhere else, this person asked the director of nursing and the hospital directly, 'What would you like your money to actually be spent on, and I will buy that. I would rather purchase whatever it is that you request for your hospital and give you that rather than the money, because I am concerned about where it might end up.'

I certainly welcome anything that will improve this area and that will give people more comfort, because it is the comfort of the donators that is extremely important in this issue. Regardless of what legislation is in place, regardless of what systems are in place and regardless of what assurance they receive from the government, the hospital or the people, if they remain uncomfortable then that will have a negative impact on donations. I certainly welcome anything that will improve that.

People in the country understand that their donations to their hospital go a lot more broadly and have a far more wide-ranging positive impact than just specifically the health service, because people understand that, if they lose their hospital in their country town, then they lose so much more. They lose the opportunity for older people to stay in the town and for young families to want to come to the town. They lose all of the business that the hospital creates in the town, too; whether it is the local pharmacy, the butcher or the grocer, and those things are in fact under attack at the moment with regard to centralised purchasing. However, people really do understand that their donations to their hospital in a country town are far more beneficial than they are just to the specific health service and that they do support the town in general.

I, together with all members of this house, I am sure, am extremely grateful for people all over the state who donate to our health system. I am particularly grateful for the people throughout Stuart who donate to the hospitals in Stuart. There are nine hospitals in the electorate of Stuart and every single one of them is extremely important. I certainly welcome any improvement to legislation that gives donators greater comfort that the money that they would give to the health system will be spent exactly where they would like it to be spent.


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