House debates

Thursday, 12 November 2020


Leichhardt Electorate: Cairns University Hospital

4:44 pm

Photo of Warren EntschWarren Entsch (Leichhardt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I say to the honourable member: if he's got some spare tradies, send them in busloads up to Leichhardt. We're desperately short of tradies up there.

I rise tonight to highlight a critical project in my electorate that is needed sooner rather than later. In January 2019, Prime Minister Morrison visited Cairns and announced $60 million towards the establishment of the Cairns University Hospital in partnership with James Cook University. The funding included $10 million to purchase the necessary land and $50 million towards stage 1 of the project. The money was allocated in last year's budget and represents the full federal government funding requirement.

Sadly, until recently, very little interest has been shown in the project by the Queensland state government. Call me a cynic, but, on the eve of the Queensland election, suddenly the Queensland government showed interest in being involved in the project. This was, of course, nearly 20 months after the Morrison government put its money on the table for the project. But we'll get back to that later.

In 2017-18, Cairns Hospital had 130,174 presentations in its emergency department and 103,731 hospital admissions. Due to the estimated population growth of about 1.4 per cent per annum and the large number of residents in Far North Queensland currently aged between 40 and 55, it is expected that demand for health services is going to continue to grow very significantly. The new facility will allow for the relocation of research and education staff who are currently being housed within the Cairns Hospital to free up space to be repurposed for clinical use. The new building will include research laboratories, education and teaching spaces, an auditorium and office spaces for research, education and executive staff.

During the recent Queensland state election, the Queensland government finally showed some interest in its own project and announced $15 million towards the purchasing of the necessary land and $1.5 million towards a preliminary business case. The commitment fell short of the $5 million required for the preliminary and detailed business case and well short of the required state investment of $160 million to actually build the Cairns University Hospital. The LNP, in one of its signature election policies, announced $160 million to build and construct the Cairns University Hospital, and I have absolutely no doubt that this caught the Queensland Labor government off guard. All eyes were on them to see whether they'd come to the party.

Premier Palaszczuk remained noncommittal, when she visited Cairns on 22 October for the final time during the campaign, as to whether her government would stump up the state's $150 million share of the project. However, less than a week later, on 28 October, Cairns member of parliament Michael Healy said that a Labor government would build the Cairns University Hospital, despite committing no money towards the project. So I guess we're just going to have to take him at his word and hope that it doesn't become another disaster such as we experienced with Labor's global tourism hub. That was held out to us in anticipation for a couple of years, and then they came out more recently and said, 'No, we've decided we're going to scrap that idea; we can't continue to proceed with it.' Of course, we've had another situation with the convention centre that has been dragging on and on and on, and only recently have they started to do the work. So I hope that we don't see the same situation with our university hospital, because it's desperately needed.

For the university hospital to be operational by the target date of 2025, progress needs to be made now, not in another four years on the eve of yet another state election. I, like many others in the community, will be watching with a great deal of interest to see whether the Queensland government comes good with its election commitments around the Cairns University Hospital when it finally hands down its budget later this month. We'll be sitting in breathless anticipation hoping to goodness that this happens, because it's something that is well and truly overdue. We desperately need it to happen, not just for Cairns but for our whole region. I guess that, at the end of the day, time will tell whether we see that commitment there that we desperately need.