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Wednesday, 13 November 2002
Page: 6310

Senator TCHEN (10:42 PM) —A few weeks ago, I rose in this chamber to bring to the attention of senators the sad conditions that my home state of Victoria has sunk to, less than three years after coming under the deplorable mismanagement of the Bracks Labor government. I cited the particular example of the Federation Square development, which had the distinction of being the only Centenary of Federation project that remained incomplete nearly two years after that important event. Senators will be pleased to know that this unsatisfactory situation has been corrected. The Federation Square project was finally opened on Saturday, 2 November—two days before Premier Bracks announced an early election—and was nearly $360 million over budget.

When I raised this matter in this chamber, I was conscious that speculation about the likelihood of an early Victorian state election had been rife in the media for some time and I had some concern about whether it was appropriate to raise state issues in this chamber at this time. However, since it was well known that Mr Bracks did give his solemn undertaking—in writing, too—when he first came to office that his government would serve the full four-year term before going to an election, I took him at his word. And since, according to some of my Labor colleagues, his government was doing so well— to this point I shall return shortly—why would he call an early election anyway? Surely it was quite proper for me to comment on the state of affairs, as I see them, in my own state.

Therefore, I felt rather badly when Mr Bracks, against all promises and against all logic, did call an early election shortly after I had called attention to the true state of affairs in Victoria. Did I breach convention? I was delighted to learn that my esteemed colleague the honourable member for Bendigo, in the other chamber, on Monday this week—a full week into the Victorian election campaign—spoke in the House not once, not twice but three times in praise of the various alleged achievements that Mr Bracks and his government have wrought, particularly regarding Bendigo. It seems to me only proper that I should speak freely about the true state of what Mr Bracks and his government have actually done—or, more accurately, not done—in Victoria; and I shall make particular reference to Bendigo, also.

Three years ago, the Bracks Labor government were elected to office on the back of a string of policy promises. In this list of promises the Labor Party gave significant attention to regional Victoria in an effort to court their vote. Three years since their election, this list of promises has become a list of broken promises. In his paean to the Labor Victorian government of broken promises, the honourable member for Bendigo provided some quite fanciful and inventive claims of success on the part of the Bracks government in the areas of health, education, job creation, provision of `fast rail' train services, economic management and urban planning. I would like to deal with each of these claims in the same order. Let me first quote from the Bracks 1999 list of promises about health services:

A Bracks Labor Government will reverse the decline in the provision of health services throughout regional and rural Victoria.

It was quite unequivocal. But what is the real situation now? According to the Bendigo Health Care Group's annual report for 2001-02, waiting lists have in fact exploded under the Bracks government. The number of patients on waiting lists for semi-urgent elective surgery grew from 207 in June 1999 to 395 in June 2002—an increase of 188 people or 90 per cent. The number of patients on waiting lists for semi-urgent elective surgery for longer than what would be clinically ideal grew from 18 in June 1999 to 207 in June 2002—up by 189 people or 1,050 per cent. Previously in Bendigo Hospital, no patient had had to wait more than 12 hours in the emergency department for a hospital bed. Now there are 124 patients who were forced to wait for more than 12 hours.

The honourable member for Bendigo in his speech claimed that Bendigo Hospital has been able to employ 104 extra nurses under Mr Bracks's government. In fact, the hospital's annual report shows it has employed 117 new nurses during the last two years. Of those 117 nurses, 100 were to meet the requirements imposed on the hospital by the enterprise bargaining agreement that the Bracks government has made with the nurses union, but of these 100 nurses the government would only fund 75, leaving a gap of 25 which the hospital must fund within its own budget. The 17 additional nurses were for new programs, and they are not funded by the Bracks government at all. So that is a total shortfall of 42 nurses, or about $3 million, for the hospital to cover from its own resources.

The hospital's annual report also shows that waiting times for category 2 patients have nearly doubled, from an average of 69.72 days in 1999-2000 to 127.25 days in 2001-02. In 1999-2000 73.3 per cent of category 2 patients were admitted within the recommended 90 days; now this percentage has fallen to 61.75 per cent. If these were achievements, one shudders to think what greater disasters Mr Bracks could have wrought in Victoria and in Bendigo in particular.

I now turn to education. Again, let me quote from Labor's 1999 list of promises:

Labor will ensure that class sizes are cut for 5, 6, and 7 year olds to 21 or less.

That is for prep grade, grade 1 and grade 2. Three years later, what is the reality in Bendigo schools? Senators would be interested to know—and the honourable member for Bendigo ought to know but apparently does not know—that the reality is that 75 per cent of prep to grade 2 classes in Bendigo's 18 state primary schools remain with well above 21 students. Indeed, as at April this year, most of these 18 schools have class sizes that are higher than the regional average for the Victorian education department's Loddon-Campaspe-Mallee region, which has an average of 22.3 students per class—itself well above the figure in the Labor Party's promise.

What really is surprising is that the honourable member for Bendigo does not seem to know the story of the Kangaroo Flat Primary School, right in the heart of his electorate. The Kangaroo Flat Primary School was included in the Bracks government's May 2000 budget for funding and scheduled for completion in two years. It would make the 19th state primary school in Bendigo. Today, more than two years later, the Kangaroo Flat Primary School is an empty site with not one classroom, not one teacher, not one student. After the episode with Federation Square, no-one should be surprised by the Bracks government's remarkable ability to not get things done. I have a long list of such examples, so I shall continue on another day this story of the Bracks government's ineptitude.