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Wednesday, 8 February 2012
Page: 372


Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (09:36): Continuing on the theme of health: the board of Latrobe Regional Hospital has applied for $65 million to expand and enhance facilities under round 4 of the federal government's Health and Hospitals Fund. The hospital is a designated regional health service and major provider of acute, subacute, mental health and specialist aged care services to the six local government areas in the Gippsland region.

The plan the hospital has put forward to the government is to build a new and improved emergency department and additional endoscopy facilities and to offer more beds for acute care. The community health outcomes will certainly improve and there will be savings to the government if this funding application is successful, with a reduced need to transfer patients to Melbourne because it will allow for more patients to be treated at Latrobe Regional Hospital in the future. The existing problems we are facing in the Latrobe Valley region will only get worse in the future, with an ageing population and a predicted growth in demand for services of 13 per cent over the next 10 years.

Just last week I had the opportunity to inspect the facilities at Latrobe Regional Hospital with my state colleague Mr Russell Northe and the chair of the board, Ms Kellie O'Callaghan. As we walked through the facility, there were many examples of cramped and inadequate facilities which were making it difficult for staff to do their job. That is quite disappointing given the fact this is quite a recently built hospital. It is disappointing that in many cases the facility was never up to the standard that was required for the demands of the Latrobe Valley community. I hasten to add that, in my experience, the staff and the board at Latrobe Regional Hospital have been doing a terrific job under quite difficult circumstances. The growth in demand has simply outpaced the existing facilities, and a major upgrade is required as a matter of urgency.

In raising this issue, and in fairness to the government, I want to give credit where it is due. The government has funded some significant health service improvements in the Latrobe Valley in recent years. There was a commitment of more than $20 million to the Gippsland Cancer Care Centre and $1.5 million for the second stage of the Gippsland Rotary Centenary House, a project which has enjoyed bipartisan support over many years. Both of those projects are important and they have both been well received by the local community, but it is clearly apparent that more needs to be done to meet the future demands of the Latrobe Valley community and the broader Gippsland region.

I must say that I was heartened by the comments of the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government when he visited my electorate to talk about government assistance to manage the impacts of the carbon tax. Rather than debate the merits of the carbon tax today, I will focus on the health issues. The minister recognised in his comments in the Latrobe Valley that there was a need for investment in the social infrastructure of the Latrobe Valley. He talked about the importance of taking a holistic approach to regional development, taking into consideration the region's health and education needs.

I believe this proposed upgrade of Latrobe Regional Hospital ticks a lot of the boxes in terms of regional development and the future health and prosperity of our region. I am very keen to work with both the state and federal governments to secure the funding we need for this upgrade which will improve the health outcomes of the Latrobe Valley and the broader Gippsland region. If the federal government is serious about helping the Latrobe Valley to adjust to the impacts of the carbon tax, investing in new facilities and giving the local community the confidence to plan for the future is a good start.