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Thursday, 11 September 2003
Page: 19918


Mr SECKER (4:45 PM) —I rise this afternoon to bring to the attention of the House the very serious issue of the decline in hospital services available to my constituents in the south-east of my electorate of Barker. For some time now I have been lobbying the state government to do what they should do and secure funding to improve the services available at the Mount Gambier Hospital, which services the largest city in South Australia outside Adelaide. I should not have to do this because this is a state government responsibility. However, it appears that they are still stalling, wasting valuable time and money and, even worse, posing a serious health threat to the residents of Mount Gambier and surrounding areas.

Mr Speaker, I bring to your attention the plight of two of my constituents: a 76-year-old cancer sufferer with diabetes and his wife. He was recently forced to drive his wife, a sufferer of acute varicose veins which pose serious deep vein clotting problems, to Ballarat in Victoria to seek treatment—a round trip of 600 kilometres in their 1975 Datsun. Why did they have to drive 600 kilometres to seek help? They had to drive 600 kilometres because their own surgeon no longer works from the Mount Gambier Hospital following a situation which has been made worse by the inaction of the Rann Labor government in South Australia. It is terrible that these people have to travel 600 kilometres to seek medical treatment, but what is even worse is that, to help her situation, they will have to travel a further 1,800 kilometres before the operation is complete. That is right: they will have to travel to Ballarat, in another state, another three times before the required surgery is complete. This is absolutely appalling because, prior to this Labor government coming into power, they could have got it done locally in Mount Gambier.

So why has it got to this stage? Unfortunately, it has reached this stage because in South Australia we have a premier who is more interested in lip-service than providing any real services to South Australian electors. The federal government has tried to assist the South Australian government with funding to manage the ailing health system and actually offered the Rann government $3.5 billion over the next five years to address some of those issues. This is an increase of $800 million over the previous health care agreement, with the requirement that the state government guarantees that this money is spent on hospitals and that Mr Rann matches our $800 million increase. This means about $1,100 extra for every man, woman and child in Australia. Unfortunately for the South Australian people, and despite the lip-service that Premier Mike Rann gives through the media, Mr Rann has continued to call this a decrease, when there is $1,100 extra for every man, woman and child in Australia for hospital services.

And if the staged walkout over the health care agreement is not enough indication that the Rann Labor government is not taking South Australian health issues seriously, I think the fact that the health minister at this vital time, when she should be in South Australia working with the industry to resolve these issues, has hopped on a plane and taken off on a taxpayer funded overseas trip certainly is. I recently delivered 2½ thousand letters to the Premier's office complaining about the Mount Gambier health system. This represents about a quarter of the population. Premier Mike Rann called this a stunt. Well, Mr Rann, I did not dress up in an AFL Crows jumper, with a Port Power scarf draped around my neck. And, no, Mr Rann, I did not stage a walkout of the premiers conference before the important issues of Indigenous health and welfare or energy reform could be discussed. No, Mr Rann, you are the king of cunning stunts, not I.

The local member, Rory McEwen, after months and months of public outcry has finally admitted that this is a serious problem in Mount Gambier and that he would start to get involved. He has actually suggested that he is going to try to get $1½ million. At least $10 million extra over five years is needed, and that is the share of the new health care agreement that should be given to the Mount Gambier Hospital so that they can attract the surgeons back. We need to make Mount Gambier a reasonable centre for health again.