SONYA FELDHOFF: Today a big day for South Australian regional hospitals as the spotlight in Canberra was shone on those hospitals in the Upper House. Now, will this mean a lifeline for those hospitals? Simon Birmingham …
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good afternoon, Sonya, and good afternoon, listeners.
SONYA FELDHOFF: … you and the Liberals put forward a motion in relation to our regional hospitals or gave notice of a motion. Can you explain what that is for?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: … all Liberal Senators from South Australia jointly moved a motion today in relation to the Keith, Moonta and Ardrossan hospitals. Many of your listeners would recall these are hospitals that the State Government has stripped funding from and that face a very dire future given the funding cuts in those communities and so we’ve teamed up, passing a motion that had already been passed in the House of Representatives by the local MPs, Rowan Ramsey and Patrick Secker, for their communities. We’ve done the same now in the Senate. Both chambers have spoken with a clear voice that the Government needs to act. Ideally, the Federal Government should be putting pressure on South Australia to return funding to these hospitals and to get it fixed at a state level. But if they don’t then we would hope that the Federal Government finds a way to bridge the gap.
SONYA FELDHOFF: Is this just a bit of theatre, Simon Birmingham, or do you believe that it actually could see changes in the way our hospitals here are funded?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Sonya, I’ve heard many, many concerns from constituents about this decision and particularly the Keith hospital which is facing a $600,000 cut in the looming financial year. These are big dollars for small country hospitals and it does jeopardise their future. We’re serious about trying to get an outcome here. Obviously the governments of the day the Labor Government here in Canberra, the Labor Government in South Australia are the ones who control the purse strings and need to make it happen, but what you’ve seen is that both chambers of the Federal Parliament, with the support of Liberal and National MPs, Independents and Greens Senators… we’ve all joined up and spoken with one voice to say ‘these hospitals matter, they’re important, let’s fix it’.
SONYA FELDHOFF: Now, your motion also includes a suggestion for how to deal with this and that is to, I guess, isolate the State Government on this, pull the funding and give that funding federally directly to these hospitals.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: That’s right, Sonya. That wouldn’t be my preferred outcome because in the end the State Government funds hospitals and they’re the ones that should be responsible for delivering the funding to these hospitals, but if the State Government is going to be so recalcitrant under Mike Rann and the Labor Party in SA then we think this is a special and extraordinary enough circumstance and that the Federal Government should step in and say ‘well, we will redirect funding out of the general purpose grants provided by the Commonwealth to the South Australian Government and give it direct to those hospitals until such time as South Australia gets its act together and does guarantee the future for those hospitals’.
SONYA FELDHOFF: Well, other than get the name of many of our regional hospitals which are very important to South Australians but may not be known very widely on the national front… apart from giving them the spotlight today, what’s the next step, then? Is there any chance that this could have, you know, see some action other than you wanting it to?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Indeed. Having had the motion and its an identical motion passed now by the House of Reps and the Senate, so both of the federal houses of Parliament, we are seeking some advice from the Clerks of the Parliament as to just what power we can exert onto the Government to heed this motion and act. We want to see the Gillard Government actually take it up to the Rann Government on this and we want to see them follow the will of the House of Reps and the Senate, of all of the Liberal MPs and Senators and all of those others who supported it, so we’re getting some advice in that regard and Rowan Ramsey and Patrick Secker as the local MPs are particularly working on getting that advice to see whether there’s a way we can force the Government’s hand somehow. Certainly, the Government has to respond to both chambers in regards to these motions. We want them to do more than respond and say ‘we’re ignoring you’. We obviously want them to act on the will of the Parliament.
SONYA FELDHOFF: Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator for South Australia, thank you on that topic, but just before we let you go, interested in a comment from you on today’s resignation by one of our chief water executives.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: That’s right, Sonya. Wearing my other hat as the Opposition spokesman on the Murray-Darling… this resignation of Rob Freeman, the Chief Executive of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority… it’s a resignation that may well have been outside of anyone’s control but I think everyone with an interest in the Murray-Darling, and especially all South Australians, would hope that it doesn’t deal another blow to an already troubled process. This is a process that was put in train by the Howard Government back in 2007, when the Water Act was legislated and $10 billion was put in the budget, and it’s really gone off the rails since and I would hope that we don’t see any more delays, any more frustrations to getting it back on track and getting the draft Basin Plan for a sustainable River Murray and sustainable river communities delivered on time as has been specified.
SONYA FELDHOFF: Thank you for your time.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Always a pleasure.
SONYA FELDHOFF: Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator for South Australia.