Speech – Motion on the failings of the Andrews Government

Ms FITZHERBERT (Southern Metropolitan) (16:33) — I am pleased to rise and speak on the motion before us today. Despite the spin from the government, there is a huge amount that has happened on the watch of the Andrews government, and because of its own actions, that is simply shameful. Some of these are listed within the motion: the highest crimes against the person offence numbers in Victoria’s history; sentences and a bail system that fail community expectations; a youth justice system in crisis, with breakouts, violence and riots; and electricity prices which are rising because of Hazelwood closing in particular, and that happened because of the government’s own policies of higher taxes and delivering on an earlier campaign promise.

We have increasing congestion and public housing waiting lists have blown out. Months ago it was reported that we had some 37 000 applications — which means 82 000 people, of whom 25 000 were children — and we know that the rate was increasing at that stage by about 500 people per month.

Taxpayers money to the tune of $1.3 billion was paid for not building the east–west link, after Labor told us the contract was not worth the paper it was written on and that that cancellation would not cost a cent. On infrastructure I want to add the government’s practice of asking people what they think and then totally ignoring it. In my electorate we have seen that in a number of places, in particular with the proposed Anzac Station. Local residents made their view quite clear: a slight change in the location of the station would save trees and reduce delays for motorists as well as reducing the impact on residents.

There is of course sky rail, and Daniel Andrews did not tell people before the election that an elevated rail line would cut through their suburb, right up against residences, overshadowing them and meaning more noise for people close to the line. This is not exactly something that was explained in any detail at all before the election.

While we are talking about infrastructure, there is also the proposed Parkville Station. The government has ignored the University of Melbourne in relation to the effect of electromagnetic interference (EMI) on medical and research equipment in the precinct during both construction and operation. EMI was left out of the environment effects statement for the Melbourne Metro project, it was left out of the contracts for Melbourne Metro and it appears that this issue is still unresolved even as the building work continues.

We also have the extraordinary situation of Labor members and staff under police investigation by the fraud squad. We have seen a very long process through this Parliament of Labor trying to avoid scrutiny of its actions, all the while saying that the rules had been followed and with Daniel Andrew saying he takes responsibility for what has happened — all while exactly the opposite was happening. He did not take responsibility for it. He challenged the Ombudsman’s authority to examine the claims of rorting that originally came from a Labor whistleblower. He took that to the Supreme Court, then to the Court of Appeal and then to the High Court, and he lost every time — and he used taxpayers money to fund it.

When the Ombudsman was finally able to investigate, it was only when that report was on the brink of being released, when people knew they had an adverse finding against them and knew what was coming, that the story suddenly changed. Since then it has all become John Lenders’s doing. He was apparently — according to Labor — the evil mastermind behind it all, and Daniel Andrews knew nothing, even though he was a former state secretary of the ALP, he had overseen many campaigns in the past and he was on the ALP campaign committee. Yet somehow he expects people to believe that it was absolutely nothing to do with him, he did not know anything about it and he acted in good faith.

Then there are the 21 Labor members who participated in the rorting of taxpayer funds, many of whom signed blank time sheets for people who were out campaigning, knocking on doors and asking for votes for the ALP — all on taxpayers’ money. These people call themselves leaders in our community. They thought it was all okay because John Lenders apparently told them it was. We know that some people within the Labor ranks questioned the practice — Mr Jennings and Mr Somyurek appear to have done so — but a raft of their colleagues in the Assembly will not even answer questions on their actions.

In the Ombudsman’s annual report released today it has been revealed that Labor’s attempted cover-up of their red shirts rort has cost taxpayers nearly $900 000. Staff costs for the Ombudsman were some $744 862 and external legal costs were $133 993. The figures I have just quoted do not include the Parliament’s costs or the government’s total costs. It was an extraordinary and very selfish waste of taxpayers’ money for blatantly political purposes.

I want to focus on a couple of other areas that have been of great concern to me in terms of the government’s performance.

We saw cancer beds axed at Peter Mac. Level 13 could have been treating people now, but it is not, and the last I heard it was still largely vacant. Apparently private care for cancer patients is a bad thing in a public hospital, but not at the heart hospital, which includes a private facility as part of the government’s own planning. That planning has been a bit slack. We have seen changes in the amount that has been allocated to the heart hospital. There has been money in the budget; there has been money out of the budget. One thing is clear though: it was promised before the election and we are nowhere near seeing anything starting.

It has never been properly explained, and I would love to know why it is that Daniel Andrews makes a distinction between cancer patients and heart patients in terms of the provision of private services. I think the real answer is simply that the Premier is behaving in a way that is truly petty, not wanting to continue with Peter Mac Private because it emerged under the previous government. It emerged from Peter Mac itself. The government of the day was supporting its plans because we knew it made sense. Peter Mac wanted to use an otherwise vacant and unfitted floor for private patients, which would have provided additional capacity in the system and an income stream for Peter Mac, just like the Royal Women’s Hospital and Frances Perry House. Sadly, that was not to be.

Something I have spoken on a number in times in this place is colonoscopy waiting lists, which have literally been ignored by this government. Colonoscopies are not an exciting thing. They are things that people do not really want to talk about. I find myself talking about them a great deal. But they are a fundamental diagnostic tool for our second most lethal cancer, yet this issue was not even on the radar for the Minister for Health. In June of last year I used the adjournment debate to ask the health minister to start reporting colonoscopy waiting times. To this day she has not responded to that adjournment matter and the action that I sought.

As I have outlined in this place and elsewhere, after some months I made an FOI request of the Department of Health and Human Services, which responded that they collect waiting list information for surgical procedures in public hospitals but colonoscopies do not fall within the scope, therefore the department does not have documents or data relating to colonoscopy waiting lists.

So finally in February of this year I went to individual hospitals, based on the ones that publicly report on their gastroenterology clinics. Some of the figures that were revealed are truly shocking, particularly when you consider the danger in delaying a colonoscopy when it is clinically indicated, as it certainly is for people who are in category 1 waiting for a colonoscopy.

We have seen big increases in the number of people on waiting lists at Western Health. The waiting list went up by some 2000 people — 2111 people — over the last two years, and the average wait time at Western Health in February was 266 days, compared to less than that some years beforehand. The median wait for a colonoscopy at Western Health has now reached 150 days, but there were many people on that list who had waited for hundreds of days, and in some cases there people who had waited for years. Only a fraction had waited less than 30 days.

Peninsula Health was another hospital where I was able to discover that there were dreadfully dangerously long wait times for many category 1 patients. Remember, these are people who clinically should be seen within 30 days. I counted 248 people who were category 1 and waiting longer than 30 days. Patient 15 was 41 years old, category 1 and had been waiting for 194 days. Patient 29 was aged 21 years, category 1 and had waited for 134 days. Patient 37 was 20 years old, category 1 and had waited 123 days.

Then there is category 2. This is the category where people should be waiting ideally no more than 90 days. I counted 50 people who were classified as category 2, who had waited a year or longer for a colonoscopy and were still waiting. Patient 342 was 77 years old and had waited 974 days. Another patient who was 63 had waited 700 days. Another patient aged 53 had waited 387 days.

I know, as I said earlier, that colonoscopies are things that people do not want to talk about, but they are at the front line of cancer detection for bowel cancer. It took me a few months, a bit of money and a lot of perseverance to get these figures, and it is beyond me why someone else had not done that before, particularly someone else who is running the health service and who had literally turned their back on this.

It is good to see that there has been some money allocated for some of the most urgent cases. We have not seen reporting on this. I would very much like to see that. And the money that was allocated was actually in contingency from the previous financial year. It could have been allocated earlier if anyone had actually just taken an interest. The only reason why the health minister did take an interest is that it ended up in the Herald Sun. It was a bit embarrassing, and she was trying to head off a negative story. I think the handling of this issue for our second most lethal cancer has been nothing short of negligent.

I would hope that in the next government we will see public reporting of what waiting times are. That is something that this side of the house is committed to. Generally what gets measured gets done. When we have reporting, these lists will get the attention that they need.

I will conclude my comments here and commend the motion to the house.

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