Senate debates

Tuesday, 3 March 2015


Northern Territory Government

7:56 pm

Photo of Nova PerisNova Peris (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You think it might be hard to find a more incompetent, divided, dishonest government than the Abbott government. But tonight I give you: the Northern Territory government.

The Abbott government's colleagues in the Northern Territory are without a doubt the most farcical government this nation has ever seen. That might sound like a big statement, but some of the events that have occurred this year are unprecedented in Australian political history—from a failed midnight coup and a Chief Minister who refused to resign, and who is still governing against the will of his own colleagues, to members of the same party launching some of the most malicious allegations and slurs we have ever seen in politics.

I could spend my next 10 minutes talking tonight about the bizarre and incredible dysfunction and infighting, but I would have only just begun. Territorians know that their government is dysfunctional and they do not need me to remind them. Instead I intend to focus on some of the practical realities that Territorians are facing, with both Commonwealth and Territory governments in such a state of crisis.

I will start with the Palmerston hospital. Both governments have completely dropped the ball on this project. This project is so important, not just for Palmerston residents, but for all of the Northern Territory as the pressure on the Royal Darwin Hospital has become so enormous that the hospital is in a constant state of crisis.

Darwin and Palmerston need extra hospital beds right now. Unfortunately the first patients to be seen in the Palmerston hospital are many years away. It is important to note that until the CLP and the Abbott government got their hands on the Palmerston hospital, the project was due to open later this year. We are still around 18 months away from construction even beginning, and perhaps longer. In August—

Photo of Barry O'SullivanBarry O'Sullivan (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There is no money, Senator!

Photo of Nova PerisNova Peris (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The money has been committed already—yes, it has. In August last year, an agreement for the Palmerston hospital was signed between the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory governments by the respective health ministers at the time, Peter Dutton and Robyn Lambley. Both ministers have since been dumped. This agreement had clearly published milestones which are simply not being met. They clearly state that construction of the hospital should start in May 2015. That is two months away. The Northern Territory government has admitted it will not start construction for at least a year after that. They are now not going to start until after they were meant to finish. The project agreement has a completion date for the hospital building of April 2016, but the Northern Territory government has admitted they will not have it even started by then.

Rather than be honest in response to the claims that the Palmerston hospital has been delayed, the Northern Territory government has decided to try to claim that the milestones in the agreement are not really construction milestones. That is clearly not correct and the health department has shot this claim down in flames, saying that the milestones are construction milestones and expected to be met as part of the agreement. People know that the Northern Territory government is not being honest. I will read out just some of the headlines from the last few days: 'Palmerston Hospital timeline total cot case', 'Please explain on hospital', 'Denial won’t fix health woes', and 'We're sick of lies and delays'. This sums up the feeling. People know that the project is delayed, and that is bad enough. But what makes it even worse is that people know they are being lied to. Unfortunately, the reality is that the first patient to be seen at Palmerston Hospital is many years away. And until that time Territorians will continue to have to endure the worst hospital system in the country.

I was staggered by the response from the member for Solomon, Natasha Griggs, to the delays. The Palmerston Hospital is her promise. It involves $110 million of her government's money, but when she was asked to comment on the delays she just said that she would 'leave the technicalities up to the bureaucrats'. A hospital project being delayed by a year is not a technicality. Those comments underline her attitude. She believes her role is to make the announcements and let others worry about implementing them. Unfortunately for Natasha Griggs, people do expect more from their politicians and their local members.

I call on the member for Solomon to become proactive. She should insist on an immediate investigation from the Commonwealth government into the status of the project. In estimates last week the health department said they were 'optimistic' that the project was on track. It is clearly not on track, and an investigation is warranted. The investigation can determine who is right and who is wrong. But most importantly it can determine when the hospital is going to be built and when the people of the Palmerston-Darwin region might get what they have been promised. Natasha Griggs should go and see the new health minister and demand an investigation.

It is not just in Palmerston that we are seeing delays and dishonesty. We are seeing the same problems with health infrastructure in the bush. Last week, the dysfunctional Northern Territory government announced that they were about to start construction on two health clinics, at Elliott and Canteen Creek. Completely missing from the press release was the fact that in the project agreement with the Commonwealth these buildings were meant to be completed by now.

Remarkably, once they were caught out, the only defence the Northern Territory health minister could muster was: 'We are meeting the expectations of the federal government.' He simply does not get it. It is not about meeting the expectations of the federal government; it is about meeting the expectations of the people of the Northern Territory—and being honest with them. You are not here to serve the federal government; you are meant to serve the people. These communities need these health facilities urgently. They do not need delays and they do not need lies.

There are two other disgraceful things occurring in the Northern Territory that are being overshadowed by this chaos and dysfunction but are actually much more important. Violence is out of control. The Alice Springs Women's Shelter is so overflowing that, on average, every single night seven women and their children are turned away. They have only gone to the shelter because they have nowhere else to go to escape violence. They are left destitute. This facility needs more funding. Instead they have not even got their current funding yet. They do not have any funding beyond 30 June this year. This is an essential service, and it is disgraceful that their operation has slipped through the cracks of dysfunctional governments.

Another disgraceful issue is children as young as 11, who often have not been convicted of anything, being locked up in a prison that was deemed unfit for adults. The girls are to be held in the former adult male maximum security cells. The commissioner for corrections said that the facility was fit only for a bulldozer. However, the Northern Territory Country Liberals government decided that meant it was fit for children as young as 11. It is disgrace. But it is occurring right now in Darwin. The number of children being locked up has skyrocketed, and 97 per cent of them are Aboriginal.

The Abbott government has decided to scrap their promise to bring in closing-the-gap targets on Indigenous incarceration. This is the green light that the Northern Territory government needed to start locking up as many Aboriginal people as they can. New laws mean Aboriginal people get locked up just for drinking. And they are all Aboriginal people. White people drinking are not locked up. A drunken Aboriginal person in a park gets locked up. A drunk white person in Mitchell Street is simply doing what the Chief Minister Adam Giles says is a 'core social value'.

There are a lot of opinions and speculation about what the chaos in Darwin and Canberra will mean for the future of Territorians and Aboriginal people. What I am more concerned about is the 11-year-old locked up in a condemned jail. What future do they have? What future does this country offer them?