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Tuesday, 14 February 2012
Page: 1224

Mr KATTER (Kennedy) (22:26): On rising to speak on this, I hope we have a clear understanding of it. The health department will get this 30 per cent extra to spend and, therefore, they will be able to increase the services provided to the public. The people who leave the private health system will go into the public system and cause enormous problems within the public system. I appreciate the minister being in the House while the matter is being debated. That brings up one of the drawbacks I see in this parliament in comparison to the state parliament I served in for two decades. In the time that I have been watching this debate on the television, the minister has been in here and so she has heard what has been said. Tony Burke also does this, but no other minister in this place ever seems to. If you are not game to face the music then you damn well should not be a minister. In the Bjelke-Petersen government in which I served, you were ordered to be there. You made the decisions, so you faced the music. The head of the department in each case was also forced into the parliament to listen.

As my honourable colleague and well-loved neighbour the member for Leichhardt has said previously, all we can do is talk about that half million of us who live in the northern third of Queensland—more than live in Tasmania. If we include Mackay we are around one million people, with probably another 100,000 tourists who are visit throughout year. The system there is under immense strain. We had one single heart doctor who could operate in North Queensland at one stage, and we have not had one for a period of two years. You can say, 'You can fly people to Brisbane,' but I will use the case of my own daughter. She had a very bad car accident. The car rolled many times. She had a suspected fractured skull. It was 15 hours before we could get an aeroplane. Two of them were down for maintenance, two of them were out of hours and one was up in the Torres Strait or somewhere. By the time it turned around it was the best part of another 12 hours from where we were at the time. In the whole of the midwest, in the 1,000 kilometres between Townsville and Mount Isa—an area of 12,000 square kilometres where arguably some 40,000 people live—there is no operating theatre. So, if a person has bruising to the skull and their skull has to be drilled into, it has to be done without a single operating theatre. That is very dangerous indeed. As for the idea that you can just fly an aeroplane in and fly people out, I am sorry—it does not work even remotely that way. The member for Leichardt and I live in an area which is fraught with cyclones and flooding and very heavy rainfall. All these things create enormous problems if you are trying to fly people out, so we have to depend upon the system which is there. But this system, which is supposed to serve one million people—five per cent or one in 20 of the Australian population—does not have even one person who can operate on a heart. I do not have to tell the parliament that 20 or 30 per cent of deaths are caused by heart ailments.

My very brilliant and clever chief of staff decided that we would have 'listening post' meetings where I would have to shut up—which is a bit of a challenge for me!—and she enforced it with an iron fist. When I was doing one of these 'listening posts' I was absolutely appalled to find out that just near Gordonvale, which is effectively in the suburbs of Cairns, there was a person who had had to extract his own tooth. The problem had gone on for seven months, and every time he had gone in for his appointment they had said: 'We've got a more urgent case than you. I'm sorry—we'll have to put you off for another month.' At the end of the seven months he was in great pain and could not wait any longer, but he could not afford private health insurance because he was a pensioner and did not have much money at all. So he extracted his tooth on Channel 9 and gave the health department a good send-off while he was doing it.

I thought it might have been an isolated case, but when we went out to Richmond there was another person who had had to extract his tooth himself. As I said to the minister the other day, in all of my lifetime until 20 years ago, when they abolished the hospital board, I cannot remember the midwest area—Hughenden to Cloncurry and the four towns, which is where I come from; it has been my family's homeland for 120 years—having been without three dentists. But in the last 20 years we have had no dentists, and, as often as not, when I get a complaint from Hughenden about the lack of dentists, I find that we do not have a dentist in Cloncurry either, let alone one in Richmond or Julia Creek. What is a health system if it cannot supply a dentist? They cannot even supply a dentist in Cairns! What is going on here?

What worries me is that Paul Ramsay hospitals are deeply troubled. I must confess to a kind of pecuniary interest here—my sister is on the board of Mater Hospital in Townsville, which I think is the second or third biggest hospital in Northern Australia—but the Ramsay hospitals are really scared, and if they are scared I am scared. If they are down here doing the sort of lobbying that they are doing at the present moment, then you can rest assured that they are extremely worried. If they are extremely worried, they know that there is going to be a huge movement of patients away from them.

The leader of my party in Queensland, Aidan McLindon, quotes my son. He made the statement that they spent $66 million on refurbishing the Mount Isa Hospital, yet it does not take one extra bed—they spent $66 million, but there is no change in the services provided! I was around when they spent $26 million on the Innisfail Hospital, and I gave them a big blast. What is the use of giving us $26 million for a lovely new wing with nice flooring and walls and so on and having the minister there opening it and getting his photograph in the paper when 30 per cent more patients were going to Cairns Base Hospital or Townsville? There were 30 per cent fewer people in the hospital, yet they were spending $66 million on refurbishment!

Surely it would be logical to have taken that $100 million and spent it on providing some dentists. I mean, $100 million put in the bank and getting the interest would buy you a fair few dentists. I would have thought that would have been a pretty logical approach to use.

Clearly as a party that I hope will be in government in Queensland, and we might be very hopeful and aspiring in that ambition but we certainly have every intention, it is incumbent upon us to say, 'What are you going to do about it?' I have interviewed 13 or 15 doctors, I cannot remember now, who have been doctors or have been superintendents at hospitals and they have been doctors for 25 or 30 years. Every single one of them agrees with the AMA president in Queensland when he said that for every patient contact person in a hospital there are three non-patient contact people in the hospital. Every one of those 13 doctors said to me that they believe that would be roughly correct and if you go back 25 years it was the other way around. So there is huge wastage. We are well aware that there are nurses on $1,000 a day, that sort of figure. I am not sure what they are called, but they have them on standby and they are on order from various organisations that provide people who are nurses or doctors. Excuse me for not knowing the technical terminology.

Mr Crook: Locums?

Mr KATTER: No, not locums. The doctors might be on close to $2,000 a day. If you have to have this huge unit of people being provided by suppliers in the system, one has to be very suspicious about this. With this sort of money going around and someone getting a percentage of it, there is reason to believe that it might influence the judgment of a lot of people. But if you replace these on-order people from private enterprise nurse and doctor supplying companies with employees, which was the situation 20 years ago, then clearly you overcome that problem.

I do not believe, as I have said to the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the last Leader of the Opposition, that you can overcome these problems unless you go back to local hospital boards. If you have a hospital board in Cloncurry and one at Hughenden-Richmond, or Hughenden-Richmond-Julia Creek, as we had before, two hospital boards, those people live in that community. If there is no dentist there, when they go to their local Lions Club meeting or the local CWA meeting they might just get kicked to death. They are under terrific pressure to deliver a dentist. But if the decision maker is some sophisticated PR person living in Townsville or in Cairns then you are not going to get anyone who really cares whether there is a dentist out there in the mid-west or whether there is not. She is answerable to Brisbane and all Brisbane wants to know is has she cut costs. They do not ask about services.

In Queensland there is a government that is about to be annihilated in the forthcoming election—I do not believe it is unreasonable that they might not win a single seat, if you compare the polling with 1972. In actual fact they may not win a single seat in Queensland. You say, why? I will tell you why. We had a doctor that was killing people. Every single newspaper, every single person has called him Dr Death. And did they do anything about it when they found out about him? Yes, they did. They shredded all the evidence. That is what they did! They did not sack him, they did not replace him and they did not stand him down; they shredded the evidence! This is all a matter of public record. But if you do that and you think you can get away with that, well I have news for you. After my nearly 40 years in parliament I can tell you that you cannot if you treat the people with contempt.

The Treasurer in Queensland believed that you can amalgamate all the cities and shires in Queensland because it was very efficient. We did not understand it because we were simple country bumpkins; we would not understand the sophisticated knowledge that he had. This sophisticated knowledge is going to take his party into absolute oblivion in two months time, and quite rightly so. But we plead with the current government, and I must say that I was impressed with the fact that the current minister was on top of her game. I do not often run into ministers who are on top of their game. She understands. But I must say to the minister that understanding it is a long way from changing it, and at the present moment I am telling her that the health services in this country are down to Third World levels.

You have a person on the outskirts of Cairns who had to take their own teeth out. He told them that he was going to do it on Channel 9 and they still did not care! Is it any wonder that they are about to be annihilated in the forthcoming election? If you think you can treat the people with contempt, you cannot. We would plead with the minister to understand that you are not going to be able to reverse what is occurring with the shorter hospital boards. If a person in Richmond and a person on the outskirts of Cairns have to extract their own teeth you are living in conditions that even a Third World country would not be proud of.

We plead with the minister to take these things into account. She has inherited the proposal coming forward this evening. I disagree with it, and we hope that she will listen to and address the other aspects which we addressed tonight. (Time expired)