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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1776

Mr SECKER (7:00 PM) —The clock is ticking loudly for the Keith and District Hospital. I must inform you that if extra funding is not provided then the great community hospital at Keith will close in less than two months. Yes, members, it will close in April if we do not do something about it, the situation is so desperate.

Some history: 10 years ago the state government was funding Keith hospital for 35 per cent of its total costs. The other 65 per cent was funded by the Keith community, unlike other community hospitals, which are 100 per cent funded by the taxpayer. This figure over 10 years had already been whittled down to 25 per cent of the total costs provided by the state government and 75 per cent provided by the community. It was already unsustainable when the state government announced it would cut funding further by a whopping 60 per cent, meaning the state government was only going to fund the Keith hospital to about 10 per cent of its total costs compared to 100 per cent for other community hospitals. This will cause the hospital to close in a matter of weeks.

Here is the sorry state of what has to be the worst case of silo economics I have ever seen—silo economics because it looks only at the savings and not at the costs, and the costs will be five times greater than the savings.

This hospital has received over $1 million in capital infrastructure funding from both the Howard government and the Rudd government in recent years, firstly for aged-care infrastructure and then for a doctors surgery just recently opened through Rudd government funding. But these will be totally wasted because the aged-care facility of 18 beds will close and the doctors surgery will close because the patients will go elsewhere. The St John’s Ambulance volunteer service will close, and the state will be forced to put in a paid service 24 hours a day on one of the busiest and most accident-prone highways in Australia, and people will have to travel further distances.

This silo economics is so stupid. The minister, John Hill, has for the last two years refused to meet with the Keith hospital board to discuss these problems. They want to explain the financial ramifications of this decision. I repeat: the extra costs will be five times the supposed savings and both the federal government taxpayer and the state government taxpayer will pay them.

Regional hospitals are the backbone of the towns and districts that surround them. These hospitals provide important services to the community and many jobs for the residents. The importance of regional hospitals is often overlooked or taken for granted. There should be no prejudice. These hospitals are vitally important to the communities they service and are the lifeblood of the towns and districts.

In the South Australian state government budget last year, Labor announced that it would be cutting further funding to regional hospitals, including Keith and District Hospital, Ardrossan Community Hospital and Moonta Hospital. For these three hospitals there was a huge reduction in funding allocated. It was not a small cut but a huge blow, resulting in the hospitals having only so much time left before the doors would have to be shut for good. Unfortunately, Keith will be the first to do so. A massive 60 per cent of the funding allocated to Keith hospital from the state government was to be removed. There is no way the hospital could keep operating with nearly $400,000 of funding taken away by the state government. I might add that I do not blame the federal government for this, but they can save money for themselves and the state government and send the message that we will not tolerate this financial stupidity—and it will not cost the federal government a cent.

If the Keith hospital closes its doors in April, as it will, the next closest hospitals will be Bordertown Memorial Hospital, 50 kilometres away; Naracoorte Hospital, 100 kilometres away; and Murray Bridge Hospital, nearly 200 kilometres away. On top of forcing residents to attend already overbooked hospitals, this will leave a large stretch of notoriously dangerous highway without a hospital: 180 kilometres of the Dukes Highway and 240 kilometres of the Riddoch Highway. Between 2004 and 2009, 46 per cent of fatal crashes and 30 per cent of crashes causing serious injury in the south-east occurred on the Dukes, Riddoch and Princes highways. The helipad situated at Keith hospital is used for the transfer of critically ill patients, including road crash victims, directly to major hospitals. I had personal experience of this when my own son was flown by helicopter to Flinders hospital in Adelaide. This service will be lost once the hospital closes. The effect of a hospital closure on a community such as Keith will be on more than just jobs, services and patients. Hospitals provide the vital services that communities need and are built around.

Labor just does not seem to care about regional communities. It must not concern the state or federal government much at all if Keith hospital closes in April, because, despite lobbying from every direction, the governments have not taken any action on this issue. I was totally in awe to see the way the Keith community rallied one another to create a fight that made it all the way to Parliament House in Adelaide. One thing I have learnt growing up in the country is that news travels fast—the bush telegraph. The imminent closure of Keith hospital at the hands of the state government has caused a huge stir in this community, but more so in communities all around South Australia. I have received correspondence to my office from members of the community, from members on the hospital board and from people residing in other areas of South Australia that are concerned about the raw deal that Keith hospital is getting. In my role as a member of parliament I have lobbied both the state and federal governments for months now, with no action by either. I have attended community meetings and met with members of the hospital board. These are hardworking volunteers trying to save their hospitals, but it appears to be making no difference to the ignorant Labor governments. I have written to the state minister and the federal minister. I have had delegations to the federal ministers—in fact, two—but no action was taken.

With this motion, I am calling on the federal government to do what is right by the Keith, Moonta and Ardrossan communities. This motion calls on the government to directly fund Keith, Ardrossan and Moonta hospitals, and it will not cost the federal government a cent, because, as you read the motion, it means taking the money out of the state allocations and returning it directly to the hospitals. Both the state and federal governments must realise how important these hospitals are. The funding amount, in total, is a mere $1,046,000. This will save three hospitals. It is a very small amount to save three very important hospitals in the community. It will see Keith hospital funded with $600,000, and this will bring it back to its rightful figure. Ardrossan will receive $146,000 and Moonta $300,000. These funding amounts will enable these regional hospitals to continue providing their extremely valuable services to the communities they support: the GPs, the accident and emergency services, aged care, acute care and allied health professionals. All these services that the community benefits from will be able to continue with this funding. It will enable people travelling the highways between Mount Gambier and Adelaide, or coming from Victoria to Adelaide, to feel confident that there are services close by if they are needed—and I can tell you that they will be needed.

This motion calls on the federal government to reduce the state government’s national healthcare specific purpose payment by the amount that the three hospitals, if directly funded, will need. The state government must be condemned for cutting funding from regional hospitals. Labor must recognise the critical roles hospitals play. A public meeting is being held in Keith tomorrow night to further discuss the options available to the community. Talks held between the hospital board and the government have not reached any outcomes. This motion, if successful, will restore the funding needed so the important regional hospitals can continue. The state government does not seem to appreciate the importance of Keith, Ardrossan or Moonta hospitals. With this motion I hope to rectify this. No community should be pushed to the side and disadvantaged for no reason other than because the state government is city centric and ruthless.

I thank the member for Boothby and the member for Gray, who will further expand on this important issue. We must act and we must act now. (Time expired)