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Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Page: 95

Mr JOHN COBB (8:45 PM) —Sadly, I have to report to the House that, as a result of New South Wales Labor’s incompetence and political bias—and the failure of the Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, to heed my warning—a Sydney man lost his chance for life today. Last August, I drew the now Prime Minister’s attention to the fact that, while opposition leader in August and November of 2007, he said that, when it came to health, the buck would stop with him. In October of last year, I called for a royal commission into health in New South Wales, particularly in western New South Wales. Why? Because the Greater Western Area Health Service, which is far and away the biggest one in New South Wales—it covers all of my electorate, a lot of that of the member for Parkes, and two other federal electorates, but only a small part of one Labor one—had between $60 million and $70 million in debts. It was not paying surgeons. It was not paying VMOs. Hospitals were without surgical supplies. Security firms were not being paid to look after nurses, to get them home after hours. Butchers’ bills were not being paid, so the health service was unable to provide the protein for at least three hospitals in the region at the time.

Last August, while reminding Kevin Rudd about his commitment to Australian health, I also brought to the House’s attention the fact that the New South Wales ambulance service had three main depots, in Sydney, Wollongong and Orange. Wollongong, which is 12 minutes flying time from Sydney, like Sydney has a long-range helicopter, a 24-hour service, and the people to man and operate a winch and everything that goes with it. Orange has a short-range helicopter which only works in daylight—8.30 am to 6.30 pm during the day—and has no winch. Orange actually has to look after all the area from Lithgow to as far west as you have to go. Yet it is the area that does not have all Labor state members, unlike Wollongong, which has four. Everybody in the New South Wales ambulance service knows that this is a political thing. That is why I called for a royal commission—or one of the many reasons.

Also, obviously, west of the mountains, because of the hours they run, you are supposed to be considerate enough to the New South Wales government to only become ill or have an accident in daylight hours, not after hours. You are only supposed to do so on flat, level ground or somewhere easy to access. That is why they do not put a winch in the helicopter. Apart from that, if a winch is needed or if it is outside those hours, then Sydney has to come. Sydney has to come over the Blue Mountains. It takes the best part of two hours to get there. It is a low-flying aircraft, and it is amazing how often—as everyone knows—the weather over the Blue Mountains will not allow the passage of such an aircraft. I wrote to the Minister for Health in New South Wales last year, drawing his attention to that. Basically I was written back to by his parliamentary secretary, who said: ‘We are giving everyone new helicopters. However, Orange will still have the short-range one. It will still only fly in daylight hours. It will still not have a winch.’ In fact, as it turns out, they actually took the winch out of the new helicopter when it arrived for Orange because it had one in it.

I have to say that, sadly—very sadly—my words and my warnings about the risks to health came true. On Saturday evening, on Mount Canobolas, a Sydney hiker collapsed with respiratory issues. Within five minutes the Orange helicopter was there. However, they were not able to pick him up without a winch because the area was inaccessible. Three hours later, the Sydney helicopter arrived and picked that man up and took him to hospital. I have to report that this afternoon that hiker died. And it is well known that the first hour in an emergency situation, especially a respiratory one, is the time when action has to be taken.

I called for a royal commission for a very good reason. This is a straight-out situation where political bias said that the Labor members wanted a long-range helicopter with all the bells and whistles at Wollongong, which is 12 minutes flying time from Sydney. (Time expired)