Senator BIRMINGHAM: (South Australia) (18:22): I move:
That the Senate take note of the document.
This is a shocking issue that I brought to the attention of the Senate. I was pleased at the time that it passed the Senate without dissent and that condemnation of the decisions of the South Australian Labor government was carried, obviously with the full support of our Labor colleagues here in the Senate as well as the crossbenchers and all of my then South Australian Senate colleagues who co-sponsored this motion on my behalf.
This resolution highlighted the more than $1 million being stripped out of country hospital services in South Australia, particularly the Keith, Moonta and Ardrossan country hospitals. The federal minister wants to highlight a few things in his response, which has just been tabled in the Senate. I find the things he has chosen to highlight remarkable. Firstly, he highlights the fact that the federal government provides support for these hospitals through a range of existing things, such as ‘through its funding contribution to private health insurance’. Guess what? Not only is the state Labor government stripping money out of these hospitals, but the federal Labor government and this minister want to strip funding through private health insurance out of these country hospitals. So we have strike one there.
Then the federal minister highlights the fact that the federal government has provided funding in the past to these hospitals through various infrastructure programs. Infrastructure is wonderful. It is lovely to build a new ward for a hospital or provide some new facilities for the hospital. It is just not of much use if there is not the recurrent funding to keep operating the hospital-if they do not have the beds, the doctors and the nurses with which to actually service the patients. It is wonderful to have the bricks and mortar and the facilities, but the funding is being taken away.
The hospitals themselves have done their best to restructure, and the minister has highlighted that they have outlined financial plans to some degree. I hope they succeed in managing to keep their doors open but, if they do, it will not be through the help of this federal Labor government and certainly not through the help of the hapless South Australian Labor government, which is stripping $1 million plus out of these country hospitals. Indeed, it is a hapless South Australian state Labor government at present. It is a government embarking on the long, long goodbye-
it is in crisis indeed, Senator Cormann-to the Premier, Mr Rann. You have to wonder whether the sword of Senator Farrell, the great factional leader of the Labor Party from South Australia, is still blunt from the execution of Prime Minister Rudd and he has been unable to get it sharpened again in time to have a swift, clean execution of Mike Rann. It has been anything but swift or clean. Perhaps it is just that he has left it to the juniors, his deputy executioners, and his deputy executioners, not being so apt at how to-
Oh, Anne (McEwen), you want to stand up for the mess that you have got the state in at present? What do we have: one premier, two premiers, three premiers, no premiers? It is so hard to tell. Senator Farrell sent his deputy executioners there, and the deputy executioners pulled the lever and the trapdoors opened but the rope was not long enough. They pulled the levers and the trapdoor opened but Mike Rann is still dangling there. It did not snap the neck. He is still alive, he is still kicking, he is still screaming. He is determined to go out causing as much pain as is feelingly possible.
So we have this awful botched leadership transition. I do not care if the Labor Party botches their leadership transitions. Political parties do get themselves in a tangle from time to time over leadership transitions and it is not pretty. However, when you are the government of the day and you leave your party leadership hanging in the balance, not just for days or weeks but for months, it has an impact on the state as well. I care about this because the people of the state of South Australia are the ones who will suffer because we have a government in crisis and a government in limbo.
I congratulate Senator Gallacher in absentia on his maiden speech. Senator Gallacher praised one of those deputy executioners, Peter Malinauskas, Senator Farrell’s replacement as head of the great and powerful shop assistants union. Senator Gallacher described Mr Malinauskas as a wise head on young shoulders. You have to wonder why this wise head on young shoulders thought it was a good idea for a 30-year-old union official, head of the shop assistants union, to be the one to boldly walk into the Premier’s office and say, ‘Your time is up.’ Do not have the parliamentary colleagues do it but leave it to the trade union leader to be the one to hand out the execution warrant-and of course mess up the execution as they have.
As I said, my concern here is foremost for South Australia, because it is decisions like this hospital funding one that we are going to suffer as a result of this bad Labor government in South Australia. We have Mike Rann claiming he is going to stay on a little longer to see some key projects through. At the top of that list he highlights the contractual negotiations with BHP Billiton over the Olympic Dam uranium mine, the biggest single private investment project in South Australia’s history. So who is going to negotiate it with BHP Billiton? Who is going to try to finish the deal? A lame duck leader. We are sending in a lame duck leader who knows he is on the way out and who everybody else knows is on the way out. Senator Feeney is smirking. You are a student of American politics. You know full well, Senator Feeney, that the period between the presidential election and a president leaving office is described as the lame duck period for good reason. Nobody wants to deal with them. Everybody knows they can manage to screw them over if they want to and, in the end, that is what is going to happen. That is the risk to South Australia with Mike Rann charging on on these negotiations. Mike Rann has said he wants to ‘mentor’ Jay Weatherill, his replacement. He put out a nice condescending statement that he wants to mentor Jay Weatherill. Of course, he put this statement out from India, and Jay Weatherill kept ringing Mike Rann when he was in India to talk about it. And guess what? The phone was never answered. You can picture it now. Mike Rann picks his phone up to get his voicemail messages, and when he gets message one-‘Mike, it’s Jay; we need to talk about these issues; could you give me a buzz back’-there is a beep and the message is deleted. Next message: ‘Mike, it’s Jay. It’s really, really important. Please give me a call back.’ Beep. Delete that message. Next message: ‘Mike, it’s Jay. I’m really sorry about the way things are between us, but if you could give me a call I’m sure we can work them out.’
It is quite pathetic. Mike Rann says he wants to mentor the man but then will not even return his phone calls. Then, when he does come back and attends the briefings with BHP Billiton, guess what? He forgets to invite Jay Weatherill. So much for the mentoring. The mentoring is all about being left in the dark. The mentoring is all about being left behind. Mike Rann forgot to invite him to the briefings on BHP Billiton. Even today, we have the right-wing factions-one of their two alternative leaders-out there announcing new policy. Jay Weatherill has not come up with a new policy since he was anointed as Premier, but one of the right’s two alternative leaders comes out and starts to announce new policy on urban development-getting ahead, of course. Why? Because he is not happy with the deal that is done.
John Rau, the Deputy Premier, is still in the mix there as well. It is not that we are a state with one premier or two premiers; we have three people who want to be premier at present in the Labor Party-all of them fighting over it, all of them squabbling over it and all of them putting South Australia last as they do this. We will not see this country health situation fixed. We will not see a good deal for SA on BHP Billiton. We will see South Australia suffer as a result of a government that is so focused on its own internal dynamics and so focused on individuals simply wanting the spoils of office, with absolutely no new focus or the vision that our home state needs.