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Wednesday, 22 August 2001
Page: 29980

Ms MACKLIN (3:28 PM) — There seem to be two groups of people in Australia. There are those who recognise, as the vast bulk of Australians do, that there are serious problems in our public hospitals. Those are the people who have been ringing and emailing our offices with stories over and over again of who has to wait and how long they have to wait in emergency departments, whether they are people who cannot walk or who are vomiting too much or who have infected hips. Those are the sorts of people who have been ringing and emailing our offices today.

We have just heard from the Leader of the National Party about the issue of trust and whether or not the public take what this government has done and its approach to public health as something that they will consider at the next election. I want to share with you part of an email that was sent to the Leader of the Opposition this morning. It says:

Dear Kim

I saw with interest Wooldridge's comments in parliament yesterday. I can only back you up on the poor health system. My daughter was turned away from hospital only last week, so the hospitals under Wooldridge are turning people away. What this rotten government doesn't understand is that we all have brains and we use them. And on a reassuring note, you—

meaning the Leader of the Opposition—

are coming across as a very caring person, a fatherly type, approachable. This is touching the hearts of the people. Not long to go now before you're the loved leader of Australia. I am a 51-year-old mother of five.

That is a lady from Queensland who wrote to us this morning about her experiences in the public hospital system. We know that this government does not want to talk about the problems that exist in the public hospital system and we know that is why we have had this extraordinary attack today on the Leader of the Opposition. The government is trying to make up a story just to divert attention from what are very serious problems within our public hospitals. That is why I was on the radio yesterday talking about—as a heading of the interview says—`The need for increased public hospital funding', which, of course, this government does not want to talk about. Two issues were referred to. One was the serious issues that—day in, day out—people, families and the elderly, confront in our public hospitals. The interviewer, Graham Richardson, did ask about Kim Beazley's daughter and the fact that the experience of Hannah Beazley was pretty frightening. I think if anyone had to wait five hours—

Mr Crean —A slight wait!

Ms MACKLIN —Yes, a slight wait, according to the minister for health. From the information we have, it was about five hours in pain, not knowing whether or not she would have an operation that day. She was told sometimes that she would; at other times while she was waiting she was told she may not. I said on the radio yesterday that of course we were shocked. I said:

We gasped, because they—

meaning the caucus—

really don't imagine that people generally—

because we know how often people generally are being turned away—

will be turned away in an emergency.

If this government do not think people are being turned away, they are absolutely on another planet. Unfortunately, it is the case that ambulances turn up at hospitals, the emergency departments are full and the hospitals are full, and the ambulances are told to keep going. Some nights, in some cities, it goes on and on, through hospital after hospital. In fact, we know that in Perth that has happened just recently, when the major teaching hospitals were all on what is called `ambulance bypass'. That means the ambulance has to bypass the hospital; it cannot stop at the hospital because the hospital is full.

Mr Fitzgibbon —They say there is no Americanisation!

Ms MACKLIN —As my colleague says, this government tries to say that we have not experienced the Americanisation of our health system. It is there for all of us to see in the fact that the ambulances cannot stop at the hospitals because they are full. One of the reasons the hospitals are full is that they have many people waiting for nursing home beds who just cannot find them. The Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth has been referred to. On or around the time when the Leader of the Opposition's daughter was in that hospital waiting in the emergency department to get an operation, when they could not find her a bed and the operating theatres were full, we find there were about 40 people waiting for a nursing home bed. No wonder there was no bed—there were 40 people who were inappropriately in that hospital, all of them wanting to get out into a nursing home bed but unable to do so. If ever you wanted one, that is an explanation for why our hospitals have to go on ambulances bypass, for why people have to wait so long in the emergency departments, sometimes for five hours, like the Leader of the Opposition's daughter, and sometimes, I am sorry to say, much longer than that.

The most recent report we have, the annual performance report of the Australian health care agreements, shows that the nearly 300,000 people classified as urgent—that is, as defined in this report, people presenting with potentially life-threatening conditions such as severe hypertension or persistent vomiting, and children at risk—were not treated in our public hospitals within the target time of 30 minutes. So this is not about one person; this is not about the daughter of one person. This is being experienced in the families of all of us, of all the people all around Australia. It is no wonder that we are all hearing about it. It is no wonder that so many people are concerned about it when we have such a serious situation as this: 300,000 people waiting and waiting, because they cannot get into a hospital bed and an operating theatre because the beds and operating theatres are full.

As we know, this issue is very serious in Perth. It is serious in all of the other states as well, and there is only one reason for it: this government—not any other government—is not living up to the expectations that it set forth that it would properly fund our public hospitals. We know that is not the case. An independent inquiry has found that this government is not indexing the public hospital grants in the way it should be to keep up with the costs of paying wages and the demand on our public hospitals. The government has dudded the states. We saw that yesterday from the figures that were tabled in this House. This government is contributing only 43 per cent of total public hospital costs. When it came into government, 45 per cent came from the Commonwealth and now it is down to 43 per cent. In just this year alone, that means $200 million that our public hospitals could have been getting if this government had agreed to that level of indexation and had kept up with the right level of public hospital funding.

The real question that is at issue here today is about integrity. That is what the motion is about. I found it quite extraordinary indeed when I saw who moved the motion. Everybody here will remember that extraordinary series of events that became known as the scan scam. Whose big mouth was it that let the secret out of the bag that this government was going to give Medicare rebates for MRI scans? Whose big mouth was it? I think it was the Minister for Health and Aged Care that let this information out. The evidence is there for all to see.

Mrs Gash —Where's the proof?

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Gilmore not only has forgotten her status in the House but is the first person to interrupt the speaker. The member for Jagajaga has the call. The member for Gilmore can count herself very fortunate.

Ms MACKLIN —Here's the proof: 33 machines were bought in four days after the minister had met with radiologists. Amazingly enough, given the cost of these machines—don't forget, they are at least $1½ million a throw; I'm sure you've all got a spare $1½ million to throw around—33 machines were ordered. Someone had to have let them know that this decision was being made for them to take that risk. When the Auditor-General investigated this matter, he came out and said that, in all probability, the information got out at this meeting just before the May budget. As a result of that, we had to have an Auditor-General's inquiry and a Health Insurance Commission inquiry. The DPP also looked at all of the issues that were involved.

We also know that this minister has been extraordinarily busy on the fundraising front. Not only did Dr Wooldridge, the Minister for Health and Aged Care, open his big mouth to radiologists just before the 1998 budget but many sources let us know that he also attended a series of dinners in the months leading up to the 1998 election. Who do you think the dinners might have been with? What sort of specialists might they have been?

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Jagajaga will address her remarks through the chair.

Ms MACKLIN —They included radiologists and health insurance companies, which certainly have done very well under this government, and this minister has done very well indeed out of them. We heard our colleague Senator Robert Ray go through Dr Wooldridge's entertainment expenses. We certainly know he has extremely expensive tastes. I gather from the information provided by Senator Ray that around $34,000 had been claimed for various dinners and functions held by this minister.

I see in the Australian today that the minister has been given his most famous tag. He has been given an extraordinary description, ranging from various colours of wine, starting from a very white riesling through to a very full beajolais, although it might have been burgundy. This minister has the temerity to come in here and talk about integrity after what he did yesterday. He came in here and said that the Labor Party's cancer policy would kill women. That is what this minister did. He knows that is nothing short of a complete and total fabrication. He knows that Labor's cancer policy is about extending the availability of cancer services in this country. He knows that the vast majority of Australian women already see their GP and that we will be targeting those who do not. He knew he was telling an untruth. He came in here and called us nothing short of killers, and he has the audacity to talk about integrity here today. We know what this minister is like. We know how he has performed in health. He knows that he has given us the Americanisation of our health system. We know the way in which he treats pensioners. (Time expired)

Mr Crean —I support the amendment.

Mr SPEAKER —I am about to put the question. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat, and I will put the question and recognise him. I was merely going to say that the immediate question is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.