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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 1869

Mr SECKER (BarkerOpposition Whip) (21:50): Last week I took part in a great regional health forum in Mount Gambier. It was hosted by my South Australian colleague Senator David Fawcett and coalition regional health spokesman Andrew Laming, the member for Bowman. It is great to see him here in the chamber. I am proud to say that I was the first Australian member of parliament to procure funding to help establish a doctors surgery in Meningie. That was some 11 or 12 years ago. We now have an Australia-wide program to upgrade doctors surgeries, which we did not 11 or 12 years ago.

Governments have widely accepted the need to make it easier for doctors to relocate to and practice in regional areas. The overwhelming theme during the Mount Gambier forum was the struggle by communities to meet the ever-growing demand for health services. This government, unfortunately, is doing nothing to help regional areas like Mount Gambier cope with the growing demand. Labor promised GP super clinics but the program has been plagued by problems, including construction delays and funding disputes as well as widespread criticism that it would damage existing local general practices. I have always supported helping existing practices to expand; I have supported extra funding for many clinics in Barker. Just last year in August, I added my support to the Keith and District Medical Centre in their application for funding for an after-hours service to provide Keith and surrounding districts with adequate after-hours care for patients.

In December I supported the Port Macdonnell community health service in its pursuit to upgrade the current consulting room, office/reception and toilets, and to improve the administration and operation of the service by constructing an extension to support additional general and specialised medical and health service providers to that facility and by constructing another secure extension to house the local pharmacy. Port Macdonnell is quite a small village, so it is very important that we can provide those services.

In May I added my support to the application by the Bridge Clinic to upgrade their emergency management and triage, ambulance undercover facility, mental health and chronic disease units, nurses stations and waiting room: all very important things for the local community. In May I also added my support to the Ferrers Medical Clinic in Mount Gambier to further develop their practice including additional consulting/treatment rooms, together with a conference/audio visual room, students room and library. I could go on, but I think the House gets the idea that I have always been an advocate for helping existing practices to expand their services. I have already had success in Meningie, Kingston and Naracoorte and Yankalilla, and certainly Barker hopes for those further upgrades that I have supported.

This government's fixation on centralisation of control to Adelaide and Canberra has led to growing bureaucratic inefficiencies in service delivery. I agree with Senator Fawcett and the member for Bowman when they state: 'Abolishing local hospital boards and regional divisions of general practice has not worked well in these communities at all.' As someone who has served on hospital boards twice in my life, for four years, I understand the absolute importance of keeping them, not only in regional Australia but also across the nation. That is coalition policy. I believe the people who know best how to run a hospital are those people who are directly involved, not a bureaucrat in Canberra. Often those serving on the hospital board are also those who are part of the community. Certainly in the smaller regional areas the board members are almost definitely people who have been involved in the community and the hospital for some time.

One just has to look at the Keith and District Hospital, a hospital I speak of frequently in this place. Its board is made up of extremely hard-working people who have other jobs but who devote a lot of time volunteering in the hospital and in their local communities. I must commend them on their efforts because, against all odds, the hospital still has its doors open. I cannot speak highly enough of local hospital boards and I have watched in anguish as this government has torn down that structure and favoured a big bureaucratic system. It does not work in regional areas.