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Thursday, 25 June 2009
Page: 4342

Senator POLLEY (3:23 PM) —What never ceases to amaze me in this place is the hypocrisy of those opposite. After 18 months in government, I would put our track record up against theirs any day of the week—on health or any other issue. In fact, in the future I will be extremely happy to put up the 12-year record of the Rudd Labor government against the Howard-Costello mess of 12 long years in government. It was really interesting to hear Senator Cormann, who believes he is the new champion of health, talk about what is happening in every state around the country. As usual, the opposition, as they did when they were in government, have neglected Tasmania. They never mention Tasmania. Why? Because it is so embarrassing. If you want to talk about health, let us talk about the Mersey Hospital on the north-west coast of Tasmania. Let us talk about the Howard government intervening in health, shall we? Let us talk about John Howard and his election promises.

Senator Wong —Mr Acting Deputy President, on a point of order—

Senator Cormann interjecting—

Senator Wong —If you could give me the courtesy of allowing me to make the point of order, Senator Cormann, that would be useful. A bit of interjection is the usual practice, but those of us on this side listened in relative silence to the contributions of those on the other side. Senator Polley, at the moment, has five coalition senators interjecting against her. Could they at least do it sequentially and observe a modicum of decorum in this place.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —There is no point of order. Senator Polley.

Senator POLLEY —Thank you, Mr Deputy President. We on this side realise we have hit a nerve when they—

Senator Wong —Mr Deputy President, just to clarify: are you ruling that interjections are in order?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —No. Senator Wong, I have been in the chamber for a long time today and I have heard much louder interjections than what I heard in the past minute or two.

Senator POLLEY —Thank you, Mr Deputy President. I always feel like I have hit a home run when they start interjecting. They do not like to hear the facts. They do not want to go back to the history of 12 long years of neglect by the Howard government. We are talking about the Mersey Hospital on the north-west coast of Tasmania. I notice that there are not any Tasmanian coalition senators here, because they are embarrassed—

Senator Cormann —Yes, there are.

Senator POLLEY —I do not hear them interjecting about the north-west coast. If it is Senator Parry—I can only see a bit of a bald head—he would be joining me, because he has been on record in the media in relation to how he felt about the Howard-Costello intervention in the Mersey Hospital and the damage that was done there. At least he has the courtesy to listen rather than interject. As I said, I would be very happy to stand on this side of the chamber in 12 years and put the Rudd Labor government’s record up against yours any day of the week.

When it comes to health, can we talk about what has really happened. I take Senator Nash’s concerns. I understand that she has a genuine concern on regional and rural health. I acknowledge that. I also acknowledge that Senator Humphries has a genuine interest in health. But I do not think there are many senators who can talk more about rural health than those on both sides of the chamber who represent Tasmania. I represent Tasmania and my home city of Launceston. I want to put on record that it is not just spin by government senators, as has been indicated by Senator Nash.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! The clock has been frozen at three minutes and 40 seconds for some time. It takes a very powerful speech, Senator Polley, to stall the clock!

Senator POLLEY —I hope I am not going to be robbed now, because I am really enjoying the opportunity—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I think we are being quite generous to you, Senator Polley. You may get some extra time.

Senator POLLEY —And so you should be! Thank you, Mr Deputy President. It is important for the Australian community and, in particular, the Tasmanian community to have their voices heard in this place. I am talking about the huge injection of funds into the Launceston General Hospital and what it is going to mean to all Tasmanians and, in particular, those in the north of the state. In fact, some $40 million has been allocated to enhance the services that are already provided by the Launceston General Hospital. What that means to the local people is that there will be better services. There has been an injection of money to attract nurses back into the field. Because of the neglect of the Howard government in terms of skilling, we are trying to ensure, as a responsible government would, that we have more GPs and doctors trained. We are trying to ensure that we have an environment where nurses want to continue in the workforce and where those who leave the workforce to have a family will have an enticement and an inducement to come back into this very important area.

In relation to promises and election commitments, I think it is a bit rich for the other side to lecture us, after 18 months in government, on not delivering on election commitments. When we talk about the buck stopping with Kevin Rudd, yes it does. But this week we are seeing the buck stop with Eric Abetz and Malcolm Turnbull.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Polley, you have been in this place long enough to know to refer to people by their proper titles.

Senator POLLEY —I will respectfully refer to Senator Abetz and to Mr Turnbull. In terms of the blame game, we acknowledge that this is not the entire responsibility of the federal government in terms of our state public health system; it is also the responsibility of the state and territory governments. I have been listening to the opposition for 2½ years constantly blaming the states over health. We have actually taken some decisive action. The health system will not be repaired quickly; I think it is totally unrealistic of those opposite to come in and expect us, after 12 years of neglect, to be able to fix everything in 18 months.

Senator Cash —You made the promise.

Senator POLLEY —I welcome the interjection, because what I am doing is hitting a raw nerve in those opposite. They do not like to hear about the truth and they do not like to actually have the facts. What they want to do is engage in rhetoric because they have no substance, they have absolutely nothing. If we want to talk about commitments and flip-flops, I think that trophy goes fairly to those on the opposite side. But I think you will find that the Australian public has, as I know the Tasmanian community has, welcomed the strong and compassionate interest that this government has demonstrated very clearly in the first 18 months of where we see the future of health in this country. We are the ones who are working to ensure that there are more GPs. We are the ones who are working to ensure that there are more nurses coming back. We are the government that is doing more for regional and rural health and acknowledging the difficulties that the community in those areas experience. (Time expired)