Senate debates

Wednesday, 3 February 2010



7:01 pm

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There is a new day dawning in this country. It is quite exciting watching the sun come up over the far horizon, because with the dawning of that new day we are seeing a realisation among many people right across this country. The realisation that people are starting to come to is that this Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, is all talk and no action.

It might sound quite simplistic to say that, but the number of people who are now coming up to me and saying, ‘What on earth is this Prime Minister on about?’ is really interesting. He keeps talking about stuff but nothing ever happens. It does not matter which portfolio or area you look at, it is all in the future, it is all down the track. At the moment he is talking about what is going to happen in 2050. People are not focused on what is going to happen in 2050; what they actually want to know is: Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, what is actually going to happen, what are you going to do, in 2010?

The government is very fond of saying that it is going to keep all of its pre-election promises. One absolute ripper, a promise that the Prime Minister has not kept one little bit, was on health. This is where the Australian people are starting to wake up, because they can remember the campaign; they can remember what the Prime Minister—the then Leader of the Opposition—said during the campaign. In advertisements right across the country he said, ‘Kevin Rudd will fix our hospitals.’ If that is not the biggest furphy that we have ever seen in an election campaign from a leader—who is now Prime Minister—I do not know what is. I still have the advertisement because it gobsmacked me so much at the time that he would have the brazenness to say, ‘I’ll just go and fix that,’ and expect people to believe him. It said:

If state governments have not improved services by 2009 a Rudd Labor government will seek to take control of all Australia’s 750 public hospitals.

Well, what has he done? It has been 812 days since he made that statement in his campaign launch, and what have we seen in terms of action on health? Absolutely nothing. The Australian people are waking up to this; they know that from this Prime Minister all you get is words—words, words, words—with no action, nothing to back it up.

I think the Prime Minister of Australia actually undersells the people of Australia, because he thinks they are going to keep believing him. It is like fairies at the bottom of the garden for him, because they are not. They want to see action. They want to see things being done. They remember these promises and they know they are not coming about. Nothing is being done about health. I see here my good colleague Senator Adams, who understands regional health and who goes into regional hospitals, as we all do. Has there been any improvement? Absolutely none.

On 14 November 2007 the Prime Minister, on hospitals, said:

We have put forward a national plan to end the buck passing between Canberra and the states. I have a long-term plan to fix our nation’s hospitals.

I’ll say it’s a long-term plan! How long does it have to be? ‘Long-term plan’ means that maybe one day, in a couple of decades, he may actually get around to doing something about health. That is what he means by ‘long-term plan’. He says:

I will be responsible for implementing my plan, and I state this with absolute clarity—the buck will stop with me.

Not only has the buck stopped with him; any plan for action has also stopped with him, because there is not one single bit of forward motion in terms of improving health in this country. It is appalling. It is not fair on the people of Australia.

The other absolute ripper that the Prime Minister came out with recently, when he was talking on Sunrise on 29 January, was:

… we have increased the Australian government’s contribution to hospitals and health across the country, to the states and to the territory who run them by 50 per cent.

Go to anybody who has been anywhere near a hospital in the last while and ask them to show you where the state governments have spent any of that 50 per cent increase in funding that Kevin Rudd is so happy to claim. Not one bit of it could possibly have got out to the hospitals, because they are just as bad as they were before.

The Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon, in mid-2009 said there have been ‘positive signs’ of improvement in our public hospitals. I do not know which dream she was waking up from when she said that, but if you go and talk to working families out there in the community who are trying to get access to decent hospital care they will tell you that there is not one sign of improvement. We have had situations where hospitals have had to go and borrow bandages from the local vet; hospitals that have not been serving meat because the local butcher’s bill has not been paid. If that is ‘improvement’ then our Labor government has completely misled the Australian people, because that is not improvement.

The minister and the Prime Minister have now been to 101 of 750 hospitals. How many hospitals do they need to visit to finally realise that they should do what they said they were going to do: fix our hospitals? The problems are the same: there are not enough nurses or doctors and the waiting lists are too long. What we see from this Prime Minister, who so valiantly promised to fix our public hospitals, is absolutely nothing. People are sick and tired of listening to words.

It is interesting when we look at the North Coast area of New South Wales. The health service there has had a $30 million cutback. Let us just have a little look at this. The Prime Minister says, ‘We have increased the funding by 50 per cent,’ and yet we see a $30 million cutback in the North Coast Area Health Service. There is one huge disconnect there somewhere along the line. Perhaps the Prime Minister ought to be a little more cautious about increasing funding to the states by 50 per cent for health, and maybe there should be some requirement to show the Australian people where that money is being spent. Let me tell you, there are people on the North Coast coming out of the woodwork who are furious about the fact that there has been absolutely no action on health.

Tania Murdock, our Nationals candidate for Richmond, who works in a pharmacy—her husband is a pharmacist and they have a pharmacy business—absolutely understands the effect this has on mums and dads, families and others right across the community. They are out there living in it. They understand those health issues—not like the Prime Minister down here in the bunker, who has not a clue. He could not possibly have, otherwise he would have done what he said he was going to do and fix our hospital.

Tania Murdock is as mad as a cut snake about all this because she understands all of those issues. She is a mother of small children and is representative of all those people out there who are absolutely sick to death of nothing being done about health. The Tweed Hospital patients are being treated in corridors. Murwillumbah hospital has all but lost its maternity unit—and this is fixing the problem, according to our Prime Minister. He is not doing a thing.

If we go south, to Page, Lismore hospital has even sacked the chaplain. Casino Hospital has no doctors—nada; none; not any. They have to go to Lismore, which is miles away. Other hospitals in the area have lost security and cleaning staff. Grafton hospital still has not been fixed. It is just appalling. The Nats have a fantastic candidate in Page, a fellow by the name of Kevin Hogan. His wife is a nurse. You cannot get anybody closer to the coalface than a nurse and, I must say, I take my hat off to all our doctors and nurses right across this country who work so hard in incredibly difficult conditions. None of the lack of health provision is due to the doctors and the nurses.

This is predominantly about state Labor governments not doing what they should. Why on earth is the Prime Minister even talking about having to take over health? If the state Labor governments had done what they were supposed to do and had delivered decent health services, the Commonwealth would not even need to be talking about it.

But our Prime Minister did weigh in during the campaign and promised the people of Australia that he would fix health, that he would fix our hospitals and that the buck would stop with him—and people across Australia are waking up to the fact that that was all bunkum. He promised them one thing and has delivered them absolutely nothing. If that is not a broken promise of the highest order, I do not know what is. There is no more important issue for our families and our communities right across this country—particularly regional communities, which are hardest hit—than health. The Prime Minister promised to fix it and he did not. It is as simple as that. We know he has lied to the Australian people and they know now that he has too.

Photo of Claire MooreClaire Moore (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Nash, I will let that go past but it is not appropriate to use the word ‘lie’ in that sense.

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I withdraw that word and will perhaps insert ‘misled’.