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Friday, 10 May 1985
Page: 1754


Senator DEVLIN —Is the Minister representing the Minister for Health aware of statements made by the Tasmanian Minister for Health, Mr Cleary, that a decision on the establishment of a private hospital on the north-west coast of Tasmania is entirely up to the Federal Government? Can the Minister inform the Senate whether the statement by Mr Cleary is correct? Has Mr Cleary co-operated fully in attempts by the Federal Government to make a decision on where the hospital should be sited?


Senator GRIMES —I did read the statements by Mr Cleary which were reported in today's Examiner and Advocate in Tasmania. This is not the first time Mr Cleary has made such statements. The statements are not only deliberately misleading but also obstructive to the attempts by the Federal Government to make a decision on the establishment of a private hospital on the north-west coast of Tasmania. There are two applications-one for Burnie and one for Ulverstone-and there is considerable local interest in this matter.

Mr Cleary is well aware that the State Government is responsible for approving the construction of private hospitals and for issuing hospital licenses. Commonwealth approval is essentially necessary to facilitate the payment of Commonwealth subsidies and to facilitate the payment of health fund benefits. In fact, Federal legislation insists that the Federal Minister shall not grant an approval in principle for a private hospital anywhere unless he has consulted the relevant State Minister and received the Minister's advice on the establishment of the hospital. In fact, in every other State there would be considerable furore if the Commonwealth Government went ahead and approved private hospitals without consulting the State Minister.

The Commonwealth Department of Health wrote to the Tasmanian Director-General of Health on 13 March seeking formal meetings with the Department. Mr Cleary wrote to Dr Blewett on 27 March saying, in essence, that this was a matter for the Federal Government. Dr Blewett wrote back two days later advising Mr Cleary that which hospital, if any, received approval should be based on assessments by both departments. It is the recognised procedure in every State for Commonwealth and State officers to consider jointly such applications. All other States represent their responsibilities in this area.

Dr Blewett has today telexed Mr Cleary once again pointing out that to enable a decision to be made there needs to be this meeting and this co-operation between State and Federal authorities. As Senator Devlin well knows, Mr Cleary's problem is a political problem. There are two competing groups in two towns on the north-west coast of Tasmania, in a seat that the Tasmanian Government is absolutely certain to lose in the next State election, and Mr Cleary does not want to make a decision about which town should have the private hospital. Judging from Mr Cleary's past record, it is not Mr Cleary's decision at all; it is the decision of the State Premier, Mr Gray. Quite clearly, Mr Gray has instructed Mr Cleary not to enter into this debate at all.

The Federal Government is fed up with this attitude of Mr Cleary. He is attempting to pass the buck and to avoid his responsibilities. He really should end this senseless ban on his officials consulting with the Commonwealth Government. If he ended the ban at least his officials could act decisively and stop this nonsense which has been going on for some time. I have great sympathy for the competing groups who wish to establish a private hospital on the north-west coast of Tasmania where there are no private hospital facilities. Quite clearly, there will be no private hospital facilities for a considerable time if Mr Cleary continues with his attitude.