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Thursday, 6 March 2014
Page: 1965


Mrs ELLIOT (Richmond) (10:42): I rise to talk about my community's great distress at hearing yesterday that the National Party plan to close the children's ward at Murwillumbah hospital. I join them in their condemnation of Lismore's Nationals MP Thomas George for his government's cruel plans to close the children's ward. We saw the report in our local paper, the Tweed Valley Weekly, and we are very concerned about that. It really is the ultimate betrayal of families on the North Coast, because locals deserve to have access to their own children's ward when their kids are sick. Instead, we have Thomas George and the National Party closing that down. It really is one of the most heartless and cruel acts by the local National Party.

This comes on the top of last week when we had paid parking plans introduced by the Tweed Nationals MP Geoff Provest. Even today in our local paper, the Tweed Sun, a headline on page 3 says 'Paid parking at hospital is a necessary evil, says Provest'. It is not a necessary evil. It is a cruel, heartless act by the National Party to make sick and injured people pay for parking when they go to Tweed Hospital.

Now on the back of that we have Thomas George closing the children's ward at the Murwillumbah hospital. As I said, it appeared in the Tweed Valley Weekly. It said on the front page 'Children's ward to close'. I will just read one of the paragraphs to you. It says:

The proposed closure is being justified—

because it is said that—

… the provision of health services for children has changed and new treatments mean more are being cared for at home.

What a load of absolute rubbish! What are they saying now to parents? Are they saying, 'You have to care for your sick children at home'? Are we supposed to repair their broken arms or broken legs? What diseases or injuries are we supposed to treat them for? What if they have meningitis, meningococcal or something else really serious? Are they saying, 'Care for them at home'? What an absolute load of rubbish we are hearing from them. This matter of course was also raised in the New South Wales parliament yesterday. I commend the shadow minister for the North Coast, Walt Secord, for raising it in question time. He asked the leader of government in the Legislative Council, Mr Michael Gallagher:

In light of the $3 billion in cuts to health in NSW, will you confirm the Northern NSW Health District this morning met with staff and announced that they had plans to close the children's ward at Murwillumbah Hospital?

They refused to deny it; they said nothing. I thank Walt Secord for raising that issue in the New South Wales upper house yesterday.

What is really galling about all of this is that there is a very long history of North Coast National Party MPs and the National Party talking about the need to protect Murwillumbah Hospital. We can go right back to June 2008 when the member from Lismore, Thomas George, had a motion in the New South Wales parliament on the government's potential downgrading of health services in Murwillumbah. We also had Geoff Provest, the member for Tweed, speaking on it. Don Page, the member for Ballina, spoke on it too, and they all raised their concerns. Thomas George said it was 'purely a cost-cutting exercise'. Don Page talked about what a large catchment area Murwillumbah Hospital had and that it was very important to protect it. Of course, a day later Thomas George puts out a press release, 'Hands off Murwillumbah Hospital, North Coast Nats warn' on 27 June 2008. The final line of that press release has Thomas George saying:

… the Murwillumbah community will not accept any cutbacks and will continue to fight them by marching in support of Murwillumbah Hospital.

They are not doing that now; they are closing the children's ward.

There was a protest: a couple of days later more than 6000 residents got out there and protested. At that protest the member for Lismore and the member for Tweed both spoke. The Tweed Daily News on 14 July 2008 reported the member for Tweed, Geoff Provest, saying:

"This is a day that Murwillumbah stood up and said they have had enough," he said. "It is going to be a long and hard battle but our hospital deserves it."

They do deserve it. It is the National Party that is abandoning them—both the member for Lismore and the member for Tweed.

There they were at that rally with 6000 people, saying they would defend the hospital. It is not just the local National Party MPs who have a history of talking about the need for putting more resources into Murwillumbah Hospital. There is also Senator Fiona Nash, who is now the Assistant Minister for Health—though perhaps it should be the disgraced Assistant Minister for Health—and who was yesterday censured by the Senate. She used to visit us on the North Coast quite a lot and she spoke about one of her visits on 11 November 2008. She told the Senate how she went up there, met with the then mayor and Thomas George and the Save the Hospital committee. They had their photos taken in front of the hospital; they were so concerned. She put out a press release, 'Local pollies demand Murwillumbah Hospital fix'. They have all been there for the photo opportunities and they have put forward motions, but now that they are in government—state and federal—what have they done? Nothing! They close the children's ward. It is an absolute disgrace. For years and years they stood there claiming, 'We need more services here,' and now their first move is to shut the children's ward.

Families in Murwillumbah and the surrounding area desperately need that ward open for their sick children. These people committing this shameful act will be remembered by the people in our community. What is even more shameful is that they made all these comments over the years; they went to the rallies and pretended to care. It is one of the most heartless acts I have ever seen. I thought paid parking was bad last week—that was cruel enough—but shutting a children's ward in a growing area is absolutely cruel.