Friday, 17 October 2008

Hansard 2008-10-15 Victorian Services Deterioration

On 15 OCtober 2008, Mr Peter Kavanagh MLC for Western Victoria Region moved the following motion in the Legislative Council:
"That this house notes with concern the deterioration in the quality of services available to Victorians, including --
(1) an overloaded and degraded public health system;
(2) transport and other infrastructure pressures in Melbourne;
(3) transport and other infrastructure pressures in regional and rural Victoria, particularly in western Victoria; and
(4) a growing divide and disconnect between Melbourne and rural and regional Victoria".

Mr Evan Thornley MLC for Southern Metropolitan Region was absent from the chamber for the vote.
Nonetheless the motion did pass on its merits as outlined in Mr Kavanagh’s comments in Parliament on Hansard below:

Date: 15 October 2008
Page: 4414


Page 4414

Mr KAVANAGH (Western Victoria) -- I move:

"That this house notes with concern the deterioration in the quality of services available to Victorians, including --

(1) an overloaded and degraded public health system;

(2) transport and other infrastructure pressures in Melbourne;

(3) transport and other infrastructure pressures in regional and rural Victoria, particularly in western Victoria; and

(4) a growing divide and disconnect between Melbourne and rural and regional Victoria".

The motion standing in my name proposes that the house express concern about the quality of services now available to Victorians. It refers in particular to an overloaded and degraded public health system, to transport and other infrastructure pressures in Melbourne, to transport and other infrastructure pressures in regional and rural Victoria, particularly in western Victoria, and to a growing divide and disconnect between Melbourne and rural and regional Victoria.

This motion was prompted by reports on Victoria's hospitals released only a couple of weeks ago at the beginning of October. There are reasons to be concerned not only about hospitals but about a range of services in Victoria, including transport, dental, ambulance and nursing services.
In addition to the general quality of services to be concerned about there is the discrepancy between inner and outer Melbourne and indeed the difference between Melbourne and rural and regional Victoria.

The first point is that the situation is probably quite a lot worse than has been reported by the government. The Age of 22 September reported:

"Victorian hospitals have been warned not to admit emergency patients to 'phantom wards' or falsify data to secure funding, despite health minister Daniel Andrews' insistence that these practices do not exist.


A survey showed that 19 emergency department directors ...

found that almost 40 of them had been 'admitting' patients when they were still in waiting rooms, corridors or on trolleys.

The 'virtual wards' --"

which do not actually exist --

"were used purely for 'creative accounting' to receive funding and avoid 'performance watch', the doctors said".

Page 4415

The situation is probably quite a lot worse than is admitted by the government report. But even before the release of the report it was reported that more than 1500 people have been dying unnecessarily every year in Australian hospitals -- not Victorian hospitals but Australian hospitals -- because of overcrowding. Furthermore, for example, as reported in the Herald Sun of 24 September, a man in his 60s suffering from pneumonia had to wait three days in the emergency ward of a Melbourne hospital because of a lack of beds.

The government's report reveals disturbing information about Victoria's hospital system. The way of reporting has been changed. The Sunday Herald Sun complained about this on 5 October. It said that the previous way of reporting on hospitals in Victoria was clearly understood and was easy to understand, but a few years ago the government changed its system of reporting to make it as difficult as possible for anyone to read, let alone understand.

According to the report that was released a couple of weeks ago, waiting lists for cancer patients and other seriously ill Victorians have more than doubled in the past six months. This raises an extremely challenging situation for many people who know that they have cancer and yet they are being forced to wait for long periods before they can obtain treatment. It is bad enough to be in that situation of having an illness without having to worry about receiving any treatment for it.

The Age reports that more than 100 000 patients were not treated within target times in Victorian emergency departments last year and that the system struggled to cope with soaring demand. It breaks down those figures: 20 000 emergency patients, including stroke victims and those in severe pain and struggling to breathe were not treated within the set time of 10 minutes and so on; 98 000 urgent patients were not seen within 30 minutes; and 85 000 patients were waiting longer than 8 hours due to a lack of emergency beds.

The president of the Victorian branch of the Australian Medical Association said the hospital system in Victoria is drowning in patients. It does not have the facilities, it does not have the staffing and it does not have the equipment to look after Victorians. This is a dire situation indeed but the situation with services in Victoria is not restricted to hospitals. Public transport, roads, dental services and the ability to get a consultation to see a GP is deteriorating in Victoria. We all know about the chronic overcrowding on Melbourne's transport system with people unable to get a seat, the risk of cancellations and so on. This is repeated throughout regional Victoria. Not only is the situation in Melbourne bad but it is even worse in regional and rural Victoria.

We know from newspaper reports that inferior health care, transport and facilities for the cities north and west have been left behind.

The report shows how much worse the situation is in the northern and western suburbs of Melbourne than the better-off parts of Melbourne. Melburnians living in the western and northern suburbs of Melbourne are second-class citizens, starved of access to health care, transport links, public services and facilities. It is worse outside Melbourne than it is in the northern and western suburbs of Melbourne.

To substantiate this, in the outer suburbs of Melbourne only about 1 per cent of people are able to take public transport to work as compared with an average in greater Melbourne of 6.9 per cent. We all know that the facilities in outer Melbourne are not good enough, and this figure underlines that with startling clarity. We know that what happens in Melbourne is worse in Geelong, for example, where people cannot get onto a train and are subject to cancellations. If they can get on the train, they cannot get a seat.

The timetable itself is not a convenient one and does not seem to have been intelligently designed for the people of Geelong. It is similar in Ballarat, which I have talked about in the house before. People are quite often forced to stand on high-speed trains from Ballarat to Melbourne. This is a situation that many people find intolerable. Meanwhile the highway system throughout Western Victoria Region is not up to scratch. There are vast improvements needed throughout the region.

Last year we talked about dental services throughout Victoria in a debate about fluoridation. Mr David Davis, I recall, stood in the chamber and spent hours going through the data on dental services throughout regional Victoria, and the figures were terrible.

Although there have been improvements in certain respects -- I understand Portland, for example, has recently had a big improvement in the quality of dental services available through public facilities -- on the other hand the most recent report in Ballarat says there is an average wait of 52 months for public dental services in Victoria.

Ms Hartland this morning spoke about ambulance services and the pressure they are under throughout Victoria. It was also revealed just yesterday or the day before in Ballarat that home nursing visits have been reduced throughout that area because of funding pressures and deficiencies in resources.

Page 4416

I would like to speak mostly about the availability of the services of doctors, particularly throughout Western Victoria Region. Many doctors throughout western Victoria and I guess the whole state have recently closed their books. Many GPs will no longer see new patients unless they have seen them in the past. We are told that Victoria is facing a deficiency of 1000 medical staff, mostly doctors, by 2009. At the same time Queensland is actively recruiting Victorian doctors. For each doctor who leaves Victoria, the situation, especially in regional Victoria, will become much worse.

The government has taken some action. It has attempted to recruit doctors from the United Kingdom. However, the most recent report says that of the 2500 sought by 2014, so far only 35 doctors have been obtained from the United Kingdom. At the same time the doctors who are in Victoria are being recruited by other states and are leaving.

A lot of these problems require large amounts of money, but I would like to make the point that it seems to me that they are not all about money. There are other policies that can be initiated and adopted that would have a big impact on the availability of GP services throughout Western Victoria Region and would not cost extra money.

Last week we debated the Abortion Law Reform Bill 2008. Unfortunately that bill legally forces doctors and nurses to participate in abortions, in spite of warnings from hundreds of doctors in Victoria that if the bill were passed, they would leave Victoria or take early retirement. More than 200 of them signed documents to that effect, and other individuals have been quoted in the press saying that they would leave Victoria if the bill were passed. Of course the bill has been passed, and in my view it is probably contrary to the government's own Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities and contrary to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

However, the point for the purpose of this debate is that that was done despite knowing that it would cause even further damage to the ability of people throughout regional Victoria to see a GP. The government deliberately and with full warning, for ideological reasons, proceeded with a measure that will further degrade the provision of medical services, especially in regional Victoria. In addition we had statements that the passage of the bill would endanger the ongoing work of Catholic maternity and emergency hospitals in Victoria. Nevertheless, the bill was passed.

The government collects huge revenues from the people of Victoria; I think they are now almost double what they were when this government came to office less than nine years ago. It spends huge amounts of money on the sorts of services I have been talking about, but there are good reasons to believe that the Victorian taxpayer is not getting very good value for money.

The motion does not use excessive or florid language; it is worded in measured and moderate language. It is merely a motion to express concern about the state of services in Victoria, particularly in regional Victoria, and I ask all members to support the motion.


Page 4436


Mr KAVANAGH (Western Victoria) -- During the course of this debate Mr Viney described my speech as a rant. Neither my speech nor the words of the motion can fairly be described that way. The words of the motion are measured, balanced, fair and moderate. They do not ask for the condemnation of the government, but merely for an expression of concern by this house at the state of services in Victoria. The facts concerning services in Victoria fully warrant such an expression of concern. We have just received news about John Valves in Ballarat; it has unfortunately announced that it is closing with the loss of 130 jobs in that city.

But apart from that, and more explicitly on the theme of services, earlier this month a report on the state of Victoria's hospitals and health care system justifies an expression of concern. There is a wait of up to three days for a bed in an emergency room for people who are in a critical condition. The time patients suffering from cancer are required to wait for treatment has doubled. Throughout Melbourne and regional Victoria the transport system is in obvious crisis. The availability of services is insufficient and the quality of those services that exist is very bad indeed. That is shown by chronic overcrowding not only in Melbourne but also, for example, in Ballarat and Geelong. As I mentioned and as Mr Koch went into detail about, the state of highways in western Victoria is sadly lacking and they need a lot of work.

We have heard of ambulance services in crisis, and we have heard in the last day or two of nursing services in Ballarat being cut back because of insufficient resources.

People in Ballarat are waiting on average 52 months to obtain dental services from public clinics. Doctor services are already under threat throughout Victoria. Earlier this year it was predicted there would be a shortfall of 1000 doctors throughout Victoria by next year. However, what has happened since that prediction was made has made the situation even worse. That includes, for example, the aggressive and successful recruitment of Victorian doctors to Queensland. Also, as I said before, the passage of the Abortion Law Reform Bill last week will make the situation much worse than it would otherwise have been because of the threat of at least 200 doctors in Victoria saying they would leave Victoria if the bill were passed, and it now has been. There is of course the threat to maternity and emergency services that are presently provided through Catholic hospitals.

Page 4437

Mr Viney and Ms Pulford's contributions had a common theme, which was how much the government has spent. That was the main point they made: it was about the government's spending of huge amounts of money on services in Victoria. But that misses the point. The point is not how much has been spent but how much has been achieved. There was very little information from government members about what was achieved. There was an indication of train services that were restored, but that was as close as we got to an indication of what has been achieved.

I note that those train services went over budget by what I think was 1100 per cent or 1250 per cent -- something of that order. Neither Mr Viney nor Ms Pulford mentioned those, but they do seem to be relevant facts in the course of this debate. Ms Darveniza talked about the north-south pipeline. I believe most people who are affected regard that not as a government service but a government disservice.

This motion is not an extreme one. It is not a rant. It is an expression of concern. There are reasons to be concerned about the quality of services in Victoria at the present time. Is the government saying that it is not concerned by what is happening to hospital services in Victoria? Is the Australian Labor Party not concerned about the quality of dental services in regional and rural Victoria? Is it not concerned about the quality of transport that is offered to people throughout Victoria, not only in Melbourne but in Geelong, Ballarat and other places? The conclusion is inevitable that, if the government votes against this motion, it is saying that it is not concerned about things that it ought to be concerned about.


House divided on motion:

Ayes, 18
Kavanagh, Mr

Noes, 17

Motion agreed to.


Peter Kavanagh MLC
Member for Western Victoria
Parliament of Victoria

"La Cabine"
2nd Floor
1 Yarra Street
Geelong VIC 3220

Ph: 03 5222 1503
Fax: 03 5222 8677


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