DOORSTOP: 4/2/19

February 04, 2019


SUBJECT/S: Labor’s commitment for a fully rebateable MRI licence for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Murray-Darling Basin Plan

MARK BUTLER: Well thanks for coming out this morning. I’m really delighted to be joined by a number of my state colleagues; we’ve got Chris Picton who is the Labor spokesperson for South Australia on Health, Susan Close the Deputy Labor Leader, and Stephen Mullighan the Shadow Treasurer, who are also local members in this area. Irene Pnevmatikos, a Legislative Councillor with duty responsibility for Labor in the Western suburbs, and I really also welcome Joe Szakacs, who is Labor’s candidate for the by-election this week in this electorate of Cheltenham after the resignation and retirement of Jay Weatherill.

Joe knows this hospital well. He was born at the QEH, he was raised in this community and he is now raising his own family in these suburbs as well; so he has a very deep appreciation of the importance of a full-service hospital like the QEH for the Western suburbs of Adelaide.

This hospital has been servicing the Western suburbs for 65 years this year. It was originally constructed as a maternity hospital to service the needs of a very fast growing community during the post-war baby boom. Sixty-five years later the health needs of the community it serves are very different to the needs that drove its construction 65 years ago. The population in the  Western suburbs now is ageing and there is a high incidence of chronic disease, which, if anything,  make the need for a strong vibrant hospital even more pressing than it was 65 years ago.

The Labor party has always stood up for this hospital. When there were threats of closure and privatisation under Liberal Premiers Dean Brown and John Olsen back in the 1990s, it was Mike Rann and the then-new candidate for Cheltenham, Jay Weatherill, who stood up and committed to a vibrant future for this hospital. They followed that commitment up with $136 million of construction, which we see behind us, in the first couple of terms of the Rann government, to secure the future of this hospital.

When Transforming Health and the New Royal Adelaide Hospital came along new challenges were presented to the future of this hospital; challenges that I spoke about in terms of maintaining cardiac, cancer, palliative care and other services here  in the Western suburbs, but challenges also that local members like Stephen Mullighan and  Susan Close spoke up very strongly about. Susan and Stephen worked very hard with the then-new Health Minister Peter Malinauskas to secure another enormous package of investment for this hospital of $270 million, and we see that package now leading to construction on this road, not far from us right now.

Labor has a very proud record on this hospital and I’m delighted to announce today that a Federal Labor Government, if elected at the federal election in the coming months, will deliver a full Medicare licence to the MRI machine, the magnetic resonance imaging machine that has been at this hospital for some years.

We also have a proud record on MRI licences. When we were last in government we granted 238 licences across the country to MRI machines, including a partial Medicare licence to the MRI machine here at the QEH. But since we did that in 2012 it’s become very apparent to me, and to my colleagues, that we need a full licence, so that every single MRI scan done at this hospital for the people of the Western suburbs attracts a Medicare rebate paid by the Commonwealth Government.

I first wrote to the then-Health Minister Peter Dutton in 2014 asking for that to be considered by the Commonwealth. I wrote with the then-State Labor government and the then-Health Minister Jack Snelling, and we got no response from Peter Dutton. I again wrote to the Commonwealth Government last year, with the new Health Minister Greg Hunt, and we’ve got no action from a government that until September last year had only granted five new Medicare licences for MRI machines in five years, for the whole nation.

Well today, Labor is making yet another commitment to the future of this hospital. If elected, that will mean that thousands of Western suburbs residents will no longer need to travel up to 40 or 45 minutes to get a Medicare rebated MRI. They will no longer have to go onto long waiting lists. They will get the medical care that all patients of the Western suburbs of Adelaide deserve.

I might just ask Chris Picton, who speaks for the South Australian Labor party on Health matters, to add to my remarks.

CHRIS PICTON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH, MEMBER FOR KAURNA: Well thank you Mark, and thank you to our state colleagues Stephen, Susan, Irene, and, soon we hope, Joe, for coming out.

I congratulate Mark and the Federal Labor team for this announcement. It’s going to be very welcome for people in the Western suburbs. To have an MRI at this hospital that you can’t access Medicare rebates for is incredibly frustrating for people of the Western suburbs.

It’s something that Mark and other local MPs have been raising continuously, but have continuously been getting answers of ‘no’ from the Federal Government. To have this commitment today that a Federal Shorten Labor Government will bring in a Medicare licence for this MRI is going to mean faster access for treatment for people in the Western suburbs. It’s going mean easier and cheaper access for treatment for people in the Western suburbs. We have the MRI. We need the licence. That’s what Bill Shorten will deliver, which is excellent news for this hospital.

Labor has always been committed to making sure we have an excellent hospital here in the Western suburbs. We can see just down the road the construction that’s started on the carpark here, and where we’re standing is soon to be the site of the major Stage 3 redevelopment, that we committed when we were in government. This is going to be transformative for the Western suburbs to give the proper facilities that people in this area need for hospital services.

Unfortunately what we’ve seen from the Liberal party, both federally and at the state level, is neglect for our health system. We’ve seen when the state Liberals were in power last time, they wanted to privatise this hospital, just like they privatised Modbury Hospital. Since they’ve been in power for the last 10 months, they’ve put this hospital, in terms of management, under the control of corporate liquidators. Corporate liquidators have been given the job of cutting 160 beds from this hospital, the Royal Adelaide Hospital, and others in the region. This is going to be devastating for people in the suburbs, this is going to mean longer waits for access. That’s why we’re going to keep up the fight for the Western suburbs, for hospitals in our state, to make sure they can get the service they need.

This licence is going to be an excellent addition to that. It’s going to help people here, but we need to make sure that the beds don’t close; that corporate liquidators don’t close these beds, and lead to longer waiting times.

BUTLER: Thanks Chris, any questions?

JOURNALIST: If Labor had the opportunity to do this in 2012, why not just do it then?

BUTLER: In 2012 we responded to a very comprehensive review of diagnostic imaging that the then-Health Minister Nicola Roxon initiated. The first that had happened in this area which was fast moving because of technology for many many years. As a result of that, as I said, we granted 238 licences across the country. Now, since we did that in 2012 it’s become apparent that a hospital like the QEH really needs a full licence. Because of inaction by the federal Liberal Government, Federal Labor initiated a Senate Inquiry in 2017 that undertook another review about where diagnostic imaging was up to. That review found, for example, that the lack of a fully rebateable MRI service in a place like the Western suburbs of Adelaide was leading to an over reliance on CT scans, which, particularly for children, for paediatric services, can be dangerous.  This is an area where evidence and understanding has developed over time, but I think over the last five years we’ve seen no action from the Federal Liberal government. If we’re elected over the coming months you will see action from the Shorten Labor Government.

JOURNALIST: Are you glad that you’ve got the state Liberal government on side with this?

BUTLER: Well, I would be astounded if any state government, Liberal or Labor, were opposed to the Commonwealth providing Medicare funding to an MRI machine that’s been in place for some time. As I said, I first wrote to Peter Dutton when he was the Health Minister in 2014, along with Jack Snelling, the then-Labor state Health Minister, asking the Commonwealth Government to consider a full Medicare licence for this MRI machine. It’s not out of the ordinary at all that any state government would support that service.

JOURNALIST: Just on another topic, are you aware that Rex Patrick is talking about banning the export of cotton to protect the Murray-Darling, what do you think of that?

BUTLER: Well the immediate challenge before the country including the federal parliament, is to ensure that the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is delivered in full, and particularly that the 450 gigalitres that the former state Labor government under Jay Weatherill was able to secure, is delivered through that process. So that’s our particular focus at the moment. We are also considering the many recommendations and findings of the Royal Commission into the Murray-Darling overseen by Brett Walker SC, and we’re going to work through that in a proper deliberative way, that will lead to us engaging with stakeholders, considering his findings and recommendations carefully, and having our own internal discussions. Our views about those things will become apparent over time. The overarching objective though is to deliver water back to the River. At the moment that water is the 2750 gigalitres that needs to be delivered through supply projects or water buybacks, or a combination of the two, and the additional 450 gigalitres that would not be in the plan, were it not for the advocacy of Jay Weatherill and his government.

JOURNALIST: But do you think that Senator Patrick’s view warrants Labor support?

BUTLER: We’re going to take our time to consider the findings and recommendations of the Royal Commission, and we’ll consider views that are put by stakeholders in that context with the proper approach that you’d expect of an alternative government.

Thanks everyone.