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Wednesday, 22 August 2001
Page: 29974

Mr BEAZLEY (Leader of the Opposition) (2:56 PM) —I move:

That all words are “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: “this House censures the Minister for Health and Aged Care:

(1) for his dishonest fabrication regarding the Leader of the Opposition this morning, when the Minister claimed the Leader had `lied about his family circumstances';

Honourable members interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —I have interrupted the Leader of the Opposition because he is entitled to be heard in silence as, indeed, the minister was. I will deal with those who defy the chair.

Mr BEAZLEY —I continue:

(2) for his gross misrepresentation of the facts related to patient treatment in Australia's hard-pressed public hospital system, as evidence by his dishonest fabrication this morning about the facts and circumstances of the treatment of the daughter of the Leader of the Opposition;

(3) for his refusal to address the resource strains our public hospitals are facing and his denial that citizens are being forced to wait in pain for treatment;

(4) for his gross misrepresentation of Labor's cancer policy including hysterical, shrill and deceitful claims about the possible death of women; and

(5) for his incompetent, uncaring and arrogant administration of one of the most critical Commonwealth portfolios which affect the welfare of Australians”.

Mr BEAZLEY —As it turns out, all the propositions made by the minister in his paltry censure motion were answered by me in a press conference today.

Mr SPEAKER —The member for McEwen!

Mr BEAZLEY —But, before I answer in detail and talk about the circumstances that affected my daughter and affect so many others in the public hospital system, let me shine a light—

Mr SPEAKER —I warn the member for McEwen!

Mr BEAZLEY —on what is going on here. Let me shine a light on the performance of this minister, the Prime Minister and the Treasurer out there today. If you had a collective of Uriah Heeps, you would have that collective description applying to each one of them: `We are ever so humble! It makes us so sad to have to mention the family of a particular member of parliament. But, of course, he started it and therefore it is reasonable for us to be joining in like a pack of wolves to see what we can make of it, to exploit it for our own political purposes.' What I corrected at the press conference—

Mr SPEAKER —I warn the member for Makin!

Mr BEAZLEY —was clearly a misbriefing and that misbriefing, contrary to what was said by the minister for health, was being dealt with all yesterday afternoon. There are—and I briefed the caucus on—two bad stories about the public hospital system. One related to the bypass of the public hospital system emergency, frequently—

Mr SPEAKER —The Minister for Forestry and Conservation!

Mr BEAZLEY —right around this country, because there is an absence of beds, and the other related to the circumstances of my daughter in the public hospital system in Western Australia—both bad stories; both worth the telling, now that you have chosen that we should tell them. Let me take the first of those stories—that is, the issue of bypass.

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Makin will excuse herself from the House under standing order 304A.

The member for Makin then left the chamber.

Mr BEAZLEY —Every single newspaper in this country and everybody who looks at the Australian health care system knows the truth of the fact that there are thousands of people each year who await appropriate treatment but, because of the pressure on the public hospital system, cannot get it. Then there are the circumstances that my daughter confronted. I do not disagree with the interpretation being given by the hospital. Mine is not an attack on the hospital, but it does depend a little on the timing.

Let me tell you what my daughter and her mother told me—the basis on which I made these statements. Let me tell you the story they told me. My daughter attended the hospital, vomiting and with severe stomach pains, early on the morning of that date. She was put on a trolley and she then spent, after having been given a pain-killer, a considerable amount of time being moved—

Mrs Hull —How long?

Mr BEAZLEY —If you must know, she was there for about five hours. About five hours—a slight time, just a little bit of time, just a smidgin—

Mr SPEAKER —I warn the member for Cunningham!

Mr BEAZLEY —Let me go on with this experience. It was just a smidgin of time and, at the end of that, she was not operated on. During that morning and into the early afternoon, there was a repeated discussion with her about whether or not she could get access to a bed. There were promises of it and then those promises having to be withdrawn. She makes no complaint about the way she was dealt with by the staff; she was dealt with by the staff very well. But there was no bed to be found for her. She was told, as she later reported to me, that there were no beds available because there were a large number of people in the hospital who ought more appropriately be in nursing homes. Do you think that is an uncommon story?

Honourable members interjecting—

Mr BEAZLEY —You are completely unreal!

Mr SPEAKER —I warn the member for Blair!

Mr BEAZLEY —Indeed, we know that 41 people were in the hospital who ought to have been in nursing homes; we found that out subsequently. The second thing they told her was that there were vacant beds but no staff to be able to utilise them. The third thing she was told, as the afternoon progressed, was that she was unable to get access to a bed because there were `still people waiting from yesterday to be operated on today'.

Then her mother came to the hospital. Her mother was asked the question as to whether or not she had private health insurance. Although my daughter is an adult, she is a student, and therefore she has private insurance through her mother. Her mother then asked, `On the basis of that private health insurance, what are the options here in Sir Charles Gairdner?' The surgical registrar then advised, `In those circumstances, you could use an independent consultant, which might bring the operation forward—indeed, it probably would.' To which her mother replied, `While I have total confidence in the doctors here at Sir Charles Gairdner, it would be better if this could be done earlier, so we would appreciate bringing in the independent consultant for that.' The surgical registrar said, `That is fine. Then we shall be able to obtain a bed for her, because somebody who is about to go into surgery gets access to a bed.' He then came back sometime later and said to my daughter's mother, `I'm afraid to say that there isn't a bed. There are 16 people left over from last night, who of course have priority on the list.' So what then transpired, you who would move censure motions, was this suggestion by the registrar to the girl's mother: `Because we cannot do this immediately and, at the very best, it will be much later today'—although the recollection of my daughter was that it was to be the day after— `I would recommend to you, as she has private health insurance, that you go to St John of God Hospital to have that operation done.'

The truth of the matter is this: her circumstances were that she would have been hours in that hospital. The suggestion of the hospital was, `Look, we are crowded to the gills—go and get your operation done elsewhere.' That is the experience of family after family in this nation. We are not talking about 10 minutes in hospital, half an hour in hospital or three or four hours in hospital; we are talking about a very lengthy period of time, possibly going into the next day. Remember, there were 16 people left over from the day before still to be operated on during the course of that afternoon.

What is the solution to that? It is to go to the private hospital. Why is that an option for my daughter? Point one, it is because her mother and I can afford private health insurance. Point two, it is because of the availability of one bed in St John of God Hospital at that time. What if it were not she? What if it were not a girl whose parents had private health insurance? What if it were a set of circumstances in which the personal income status of the persons concerned were different? Then of course her experience would have been different. It would have been the experience such as that told to me by a nurse who has just sent me an email. It is one of a tonne of calls, emails and other messages that have come into my office regaling us with experiences that are similar to mine. That nurse says:

I congratulate you for speaking out on your daughter's experience of having to wait an inordinate length of time for appropriate treatment for acute appendicitis. As a nurse I am well aware of the risks involved in any delay in treatment for such a situation. It is fortunate that she had other options, as the outcome could have been disastrous. On a similar note, two friends of mine were both diagnosed with breast cancer at the same time. One was able to have her surgery within a few days, as there had been a cancellation. The other was told she would have to wait at least six weeks for her surgery. Understandably, my friend did not want to wait that length of time to have an aggressive form of cancer treated. She felt her only option was to have surgery at a private hospital. She didn't have private insurance and the financial cost to her was considerable. This option would be out of the question for many people. I am glad to see the ALP making health a priority.

Indeed we are. What we have here is a desperate attempt to cover themselves for their culpability.

If you want to talk about deception in this chamber and the people who are deceiving, let me go to the efforts by the Prime Minister in question time today. He talked about the fact that these were not issues for Commonwealth governments; these were issues for state governments—they would be issues for state governments from this point onwards. He had nothing more to do with them beyond what he had already agreed. That triggered a few things in my mind about where I may have heard argument about this before. I recollect debates about these matters in parliament when we were in government and you were in opposition. When you were out there condemning the Prime Minister of the day, Paul Keating, what was one of the charges that you laid against him? It was long waiting lists for public hospital treatment. Were there lectures about Peter Beattie then? Were there lectures about the state governments and the states then? Were there lectures about the distinct responsibilities of the Commonwealth and the states then? There were none at all. We are dealing with a bunch of canting hypocrites on this—hypocrites on family issues.

The simple fact of the matter is that my daughter's experience in the public hospital system, through no responsibility of the public hospital system, through no malice by the doctors—in fact, the treatment that they gave her was as good as they probably could give—was down to the fact that the funding arrangements now leave our emergency services clogged, leave nursing home beds in public hospitals instead of in nursing homes where they should be, and leave empty beds in public hospitals. That produces circumstances like those that confronted my daughter. The illustrative point that I used at the community forum in Merimbula or in caucus yesterday, along with the other point I used, and that related to the well-known fact that people are passed from emergency service to emergency service all the time, leads to one thing, and that is a commentary on the character of the public hospitals for which this government bear direct responsibility and about which they wish to lie and prevaricate. We are telling the truth about these matters and you cannot bear it, and you should be censured for it. (Time expired)

Ms Macklin —I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak at a later time.

Honourable members interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —Order! I now issue a general warning: anyone who interrupts the House will be required to leave it.