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Monday, 24 November 2008
Page: 19

Senator WILLIAMS (4:30 PM) —Being new to the Senate, as you are well aware, I would like to look back on the 12 months of the Rudd government and the many things that were promised. Like Senator Sterle, who was reading a piece of paper, I read this piece of paper: ‘Kevin Rudd will fix our hospitals. Justine Elliot and Kevin Rudd: new leadership in health policy will fix our hospitals.’

Before going on to the hospitals, I will remind the Senate of a couple of things. I hear so much about interest rate rises. I can recall the 25.25 per cent I was paying under the Hawke-Keating government and the then so-called ‘world’s greatest Treasurer’. We talk about these eight or 10 interest rate rises of increments of a quarter of one per cent at a time. Back in November 1987, if my memory serves me right, there was a two per cent interest rate rise in one day. It took how many years under the Howard government to have that amount of interest rate rise?

Of course, unemployment followed, up to 11 per cent—a million people were out of work. Those working families were thrown onto the unemployment heap by the then Hawke-Keating government. We hear a lot about working families. I must say that I have a bit of a chuckle when I look across the chamber and I think of the shearers, the Australian Workers Union, under the Tree of Knowledge at Barcaldine, who started the Australian Labor Party. I look across there now, and not one of them would know how to load a handpiece, let alone knock the wool off a sheep. I stand here proudly as the only shearer in the chamber, knowing what back-bending hard work is about.

Senator Sterle —I think Bill’s done a bit, mate. You’re being a bit harsh!

Senator WILLIAMS —I think the few that Bill could scratch off you wouldn’t actually call shearing. Anyway, we will proceed. I make the point about our hospitals. Here it is: ‘Kevin Rudd will fix our hospitals.’ Let me just have a look at what has happened in New South Wales under our hospital system. It was only a couple of months ago that I raised the issue that hospitals like those at Gilgandra and Coonabarabran could not provide meat to their patients. Why? Because the bills had not been paid to the small businesses. What sort of a health system do we have in this nation when the bills cannot be paid to small business and the hospitals get their credit cut off? I have seen it in many small businesses, coming from small business myself. I know of one small business in northern New South Wales that waited 12 months to have their bill paid by the Hunter New England health system. So we have a system in our hospitals where we have the meat supply cut off. That is a disgrace, especially in this nation, where we talk about the wealth and how in New South Wales we are the highest taxed state in the nation. I believe that is still the case—and they cannot pay the bills. So there is where ‘Mr Rudd will fix our hospital systems’.

I look at the Inverell Hospital, in the proud community I come from, one of the communities in country Australia, which has grown from 10,000 to 12,000 people over the last five years. Inverell is a good-sized country town, with 12,000 people. There are about 17,000 in the area of the Inverell Shire Council. At our hospital, we do not have a surgeon—12,000 people and we do not have a surgeon. We used to have two surgeons in the town. What happens when there is an unfortunate incident—for example, a youngster might come down with appendicitis? Oh well, it is into the ambulance and off in a helicopter. As we know, when you come down with something like appendicitis, the clock starts ticking, and the longer the clock ticks the more danger the person’s life is in. So we go off to Armidale.

We are now in the hub-and-spoke hospital system, where we cannot carry out these emergency operations in our town unless it just happens to be one of the days when a visiting surgeon may happen to be in town. I just hope the situation does not arise where we actually lose someone’s life because of this situation of our hospitals being neglected by years of Labor government in New South Wales and by the broken promises of Kevin Rudd that he would fix our hospitals.

I could go on about the health system for ages, but I would like to say this: at our hospital at Inverell—I was talking to a local doctor just recently—we have around 10,000 visits to that hospital a year yet we have no CMOs, no permanent resident doctors, in that hospital. The local GPs have to service that hospital. They also have to run the HN McLean Retirement Village. They also have to run their local surgeries, visit patients all day and have patients attend their surgeries all day. They are overloaded with work. And there is a hospital system that has no permanent CMO to take the workload off our local GPs in the town.

However, when I look at Armidale, they have something like five CMOs in their hospital and they get 15,000 visits a year—15,000 visits and they have five CMO resident doctors to serve their hospital. We are getting 10,000 visits a year and we have no CMO residents. But I suppose there is one difference—when your state member lives in Armidale, not Inverell. Here is the problem we are now facing. What if our local GPs say, ‘The workload is too much and we’re not going to service the hospital’? What sort of emergency department are we going to have?

The biggest promise that the current Prime Minister made to the Australian people prior to the election on 24 November last year—that he would fix our hospitals—was to me the greatest load of misleading information a nation could ever have. Our hospital system is in disarray, not only in country areas of New South Wales. We have heard so much of what has happened in the city hospitals and emergency wards. Even at Port Macquarie, there is a desperate need to improve the hospital, but nothing has been done. In the slashing of the minibudget in New South Wales parliament just recently—we do have a government in New South Wales; I just do not think it is recognised these days—there were another 400 jobs on the North Coast in the health system of New South Wales.

What are we seeing? Over the last 12 months, we have seen a situation where the bucket of money is almost empty. They inherited it full, debt free. And now we have the same problem in New South Wales, where there is no money to go around, where the bills are not being paid and our hospital systems are neglected. But, as we have known for many years, when it comes to running the nation, there is only one side of politics that can run the economy in the way it should be run, and we know that is not the side of Labor. I thank you for the opportunity of speaking.