Wednesday, 8 August 2007
Questions without Notice
My question is addressed to the Minister for Health and Ageing. Would the minister inform the House of the federal government’s proposal to preserve the Mersey hospital and would he report on discussions held in Tasmania yesterday?
I thank the member for Braddon for his question. I appreciate how important this issue is for him and for the people of north-western Tasmania. Let me say that north-western Tasmania has never had a better representative than this member for Braddon. Let me make it absolutely crystal clear—
I hope the people of north-west Tasmania are listening to the caterwauling from members opposite. If the members opposite have something to say to those people, let them say it and not cackle like hyenas in this parliament. Let me say to the people of Devonport, La Trobe, Kentish, Sheffield and Ulverstone that they deserve a comprehensive general hospital that delivers services suitable for a catchment of that size. The situation is very simple. The state Labor government wants to destroy Mersey hospital as it has been known, and the Commonwealth government wants to save it. The state government says that it has a plan for hospital services in the north-west. It is true; it has produced hundreds of pages of paper. It has not committed a single dollar—and, without a dollar, its plan is not worth the paper that it is written on.
There are three essential elements to the Commonwealth plan. The Commonwealth will fund the hospital, the community will control the hospital and the hospital will deliver the same level of services that it safely and effectively delivered for many years before the state government started the downgrade. The Commonwealth plan means there will be $45 million more for health services in north-west Tasmania. The Commonwealth plan means one level of government funding the hospital and it means that the community that delivers the services and receives the services is the community that controls the services. This is a good model for public hospital service delivery. It is potentially a better model than that currently practised by the state governments.
Let me make this point: a state government that refused to accept what was, in effect, a $45-million free gift in health services for the people of north-western Tasmania would be insane; and a federal opposition that supported such a state government would be equally insane. This is a real challenge for the Leader of the Opposition: does he support what the Commonwealth is doing here? On Radio National, on Monday, he was given a chance to say where he stood five times. He wimped out five times—and he is turning his back now.
The people of Australia do not want a wimp for a Prime Minister and they do not want an alternative Prime Minister who swivels around in his seat like this whenever he is put under pressure. I say to the Leader of the Opposition: it is time to be a leader and not a follower; and it is time to be a decision maker and not a fence-sitter. He now says that he is some kind of a Liberal in disguise, but he cannot even be trusted to support Liberal policy.
My question is to the Prime Minister. It follows on from the answer that the Minister for Health and Ageing has just given. Isn’t it the case, Prime Minister, that Liberal Senator Parry’s observation in the lift yesterday that your takeover of the Mersey hospital was a disaster is verified by a letter from Senator Parry to the Tasmanian Minister for Health and Human Services, dated 7 February 2007, in which he states:
... our situation requires a whole of state approach with State-wide services provided in a rational manner.
The best model, in my view, is ... where Tasmania would develop three centres of excellence.
Hobart, Launceston and Burnie would appear to be the logical choice.
It was signed ‘Senator Stephen Parry, Liberal, Tasmania’.
Mr Speaker, I choose to answer the question. It gives me an opportunity to restate the government’s position. The government’s position is to keep the Mersey hospital open as a full public hospital facility. Unlike others, we happen to believe that providing that hospital would be a very good thing, but it is now apparent from the action of the member for Gellibrand that she and the Leader of the Opposition are opposed to keeping the Mersey hospital open. In other words, we are expected to believe that you can behave in question time as if you are opposed to something, you can pretend that you are opposed to something—
but, when you are actually accused of being opposed to something, you stand up and you say, ‘No, I didn’t say that.’ What kind of opposition do you have? Whether you agree with our decision or you do not agree with our decision—
Order! I have made it clear that the holding up of posters is not in order. I have given the member for Gellibrand a warning. She continues to misbehave. She will remove herself under standing order 94(a).
The member for Gellibrand then left the chamber.
What matters on this issue is not whether you can hold up a facsimile of a newspaper. What matters is who is prepared to look after the people of Devonport, who is prepared to keep open the Mersey hospital. Those on this side of the House are; those on that side of the House are opposed to doing it. They can score all the points they want.
We are in favour of this hospital; the Labor Party is against it. We say to the 70,000 people in the catchment area covered by this hospital: we are prepared to invest $45 million to keep this hospital running. The Labor Party thinks so poorly of the people of Devonport that it spends question time making jokes—
Can I let the people of Devonport and the people of Northern Tasmania know that, whilst the government has spent the last few minutes arguing in favour of keeping open a full public hospital facility in Devonport and being willing to contribute $45 million to it, the Labor Party opposition has been so contemptuous of their interests that it has had two members asked to leave the House, it has made jokes at the expense of the interests of the people of Devonport and it has put a passion for playing politics above caring for the interests of the people of Devonport.