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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1786

Dr SOUTHCOTT (7:41 PM) —I am very pleased to support the member for Barker and the member for Grey on this motion regarding community hospitals. The member for Barker has been forced to take an almost unprecedented step as a last resort. When the national healthcare specific purpose payment for the South Australian government was agreed there was every expectation that the South Australian government would maintain their funding effort in the area of public hospitals. There was no expectation that the South Australian government would be withdrawing support from hospitals and would be taking decisions which, in effect, would lead to the closure of three regional hospitals. At the state election in March last year, voters in South Australia were unaware that this was a decision which the state government were going to take. That has had the effect of reducing services provided by the three hospitals that we have mentioned: Keith, Ardrossan and Moonta. In practice, it will mean that for commuters who drive between Adelaide and Melbourne or between Melbourne and Adelaide, in particular that stretch between Murray Bridge and Bordertown—a stretch of almost 180, 190 kilometres—there will be no accident and emergency unit. That is very important for the commuters in South Australia.

To put this in perspective we need to consider the history of community hospitals. Originally, all these hospitals, irrespective of whether they are now public or community hospitals, started life as community hospitals. The community supported the hospitals and, in turn, they were supported by the South Australian state government. This is only the latest chapter in a long history of downgrading country hospitals. Almost 20 years ago the Labor Party in South Australia wanted to close Tailem Bend, Laura and Blyth hospitals. Quite recently, South Australia had a country health policy which proposed the downgrading of all country hospitals bar four. Kevin Rudd’s original proposal under the great health and hospital reform, about which we have heard so much, was to have activity based funding for all 760 public hospitals in Australia. The opposition immediately recognised, as did others, including the New South Wales Premier, that this would be disastrous for country hospitals. While case mix, activity based funding works well in large volume, in big city hospitals, it will not work in country hospitals.

I have been to the hospitals in Moonta and Ardrossan at the invitation of the member for Grey. I am quite familiar with the community in Keith as well. The member for Barker wants to take an unprecedented step—that is, to redirect the funding, which there was every expectation that the South Australian government were going to continue to pay. They never said in their March election last year, less than a year ago, that they would be taking this step. We are calling on the federal government to take this action—that is, to directly fund these three hospitals as a result of the actions taken by the South Australian government.

This is very important for the communities in Keith, Ardrossan and Moonta. If Ardrossan hospital closes there will be no hospital on the east coast of Yorke Peninsula. As I said, if Keith hospital closes there will be no hospital for 180 kilometres of the Dukes Highway, where a large number of serious accidents and fatalities occur. The opposition calls on all members of the House to support this motion, which will help maintain the viability of these three hospitals. It is wrong to typecast these hospitals as private hospitals. We all know that they are community hospitals. They are very different to the nature of high-volume private hospitals, which rely on large numbers of insured patients. I call on all members to support this motion. (Time expired)