THE HON MARK BUTLER MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGEING
MEMBER FOR HINDMARSH
SENATOR HELEN POLLEY
SENATOR FOR TASMANIA
FEDERAL LABOR CANDIDATE FOR BASS
FRIDAY, 29 APRIL 2022
SUBJECTS: Labor will deliver a Hospice in Northern Tasmania; Labor’s plan for Medicare Urgent Care Clinics; Bell Bay Hydrogen Plant; COVID-19.
ROSS HART FEDERAL LABOR CANDIDATE FOR BASS: Thank you everybody. My name is Ross Hart. I'm the Labor Candidate for Bass and I'm here with my colleague and friend, Mark Butler, the Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing, and Senator Helen Polley. We're here to make a really important announcement that has been years in the making.
In 2016 Labor made a commitment to fund a hospice here within the Launceston General Hospital precinct, the health precinct. Unfortunately, Labor was not elected to government and that undertaking with respect to the funding of the hospice was unable to be delivered.
Since then, Barb Baker and her group The Friends of the Northern Hospice had been absolutely fearless and unrelenting in their campaigning publicly with politicians across the divide, to deliver this vital service.
Mark Butler will be able to make an announcement, and I'm very pleased to introduce Mark. Thank you Mark for being here in Northern Tasmania.
MARK BUTLER MP, SHADOW MINISTER HEALTH AND AGEING: Thanks very much Ross. It's wonderful to be here again with Ross. I was only here a few weeks ago to make an important announcement about new training and respite facilities that would be funded by an incoming Labor Government and delivered by Community Care Tas, and it's great to be here again with our fantastic Candidate for Bass, and also my friend, Senator Helen Polley. We're joined also today by Barb Baker who has just been the most tireless of advocates for better end of life services here in Northern Tasmania, particularly the delivery of a hospice service, which I'll have more to talk about very shortly.
Labor is committed to delivering a better future out of this once in a century pandemic, this terrible period that we've all been living for over the last couple of years. And there's no area that is more important to that better future than healthcare. No area.
It's never been harder to see a doctor than it is right now in Australia, and it's never been more expensive. As I talk to people in Launceston, they find it incredibly difficult to find a bulk billing doctors because doctors effectively had their wages frozen with a freezing of the Medicare rebate under this Government for six long years, and as a result gap fees to see a GP have increased in the electorate of Bass by almost 40 per cent under this Government and to see a specialist, by a whopping more than 60 per cent over the time of this Government.
Just one of the range of huge pressures, huge cost of living pressures that are smashing household budgets right now. Labor is committed to strengthening Medicare, committed to making it easier and cheaper to see a doctor.
Central to that commitment here in Northern Tasmania is the commitment we've already made to deliver an urgent care service here in the region of the Launceston General Hospital. Not only will that make it easy to see a doctor, it will take much needed pressure off the emergency department across the road here at the LGH. It will deliver bulk billed services seven days a week from 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM for those minor emergencies like your kid falling off a skateboard and busting their arm, or a deep cut that needs to be stitched.
Currently, because people can't get into a GP, they end up spending hours and hours waiting at an emergency department like the one here at the LGH instead of getting the care they need when they need it, free of charge, and Labor will change that reality for the people of Northern Tasmania.
We've also made a number of other commitments to improving health services in this part of Tasmania. I talked about the Respite and Training Centre delivered by Community Care Tas, supported by dozens of aged care and disability organisations in Launceston and the surrounding region. We've committed to a new home for the Royal Flying Doctor Service here at the Launceston airport. We've committed to finally delivering an early intervention service for hearing impaired children that on the mainland, families take for granted. It has existed for years and years on the mainland, but only Labor will deliver here in Launceston, as well as in southern Tasmania as well.
And as Ross just foreshadowed, I'm delighted today to be able to announce that an incoming Labor Government would deliver $5 million to kickstart the development of a hospice here in the LGH precinct. Something that Friends of Northern Hospice have campaigned for tirelessly for years and years, particularly since the closure of the Philip Oakden House back some 15 years ago.
Can I say in a country as rich and as privileged as Australia people are entitled to expect a safe birth at the dawn of life and a dignified death at the end, and over the last two years we've learned the importance of that more than ever as we've seen hundreds and hundreds of people in our own country, many millions across the world, die alone, not able to have their hand held in their final minutes by their loved ones because of the awful impact of this COVID pandemic. We do pretty well as a country on the end of life but we can always do better, and the delivery of good hospice services across the country is central to that commitment.
It's important to say, and I'm sure Barb will have more to say about this, a hospice is not just another hospital ward. It is a place of spiritual and emotional safety that surrounds the whole family, not just the patient. It's a family-centred service where people can spend time, those important last hours and last days of a loved one’s life. So the design of this project, the location of this project within the precinct, is going to be incredibly important. It can't just be another ward in the hospital, and we are committed to working closely with the State Government, with other health service and importantly, with the community represented by Friends of Northern Hospice, to make sure that this is a sensitive, dignified project delivered for the people of Launceston and the surrounding region.
So happy to take questions about that later, and I'm sure Barb will want to have something to say about it as well.
But just before I finish and go to questions I also want to address an announcement made by the Prime Minister Scott Morrison this morning of the delivery of a hydrogen hub at Bell Bay, Can I say firstly, just this, Ross Hart and I three years ago made exactly that commitment at Bell Bay because we knew the potential of the global hydrogen industry and the degree to which Australia could be a global leader. And what was Scott Morrison’s response to our announcement back then? Well, he mocked it. They said hydrogen was snake oil. They said hydrogen would not be a reality for decades and decades and in the last three years, we've just simply lost time. We’ve just simply lost our ability to be that global leader that Ross and I said we could be three years ago, and there is no better place in the country than Bell Bay to harness the renewable energy resources of Tasmania, the deep-water port there, and the longstanding commercial linkages that that part of Tasmania has with Asian markets.
So I say, about time. And I can say that the Labor Party will match that commitment, but most importantly we’ll actually deliver it, because we have been committed to this industry for years and we are united about it. Unlike the Coalition of chaos, which still today has significant members of the Coalition saying they don't think hydrogen is real. Significant members of the Coalition, saying their commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 is not a real commitment.
Only Labor will deliver the clean energy future that will give secure jobs to this part of Tasmania, particularly around the Bell Bay Precinct, and Ross reminds me we are going to have much more to say about the potential of the hydrogen industry in this part of Tasmania.
So let's be clear, the only way to deliver a clean energy future and the jobs that go along with it is to change the government, and the only way to change the government is to change the Member for Bass. The only way to strengthen Medicare is to change the Member for Bass. The only way to fix aged care is to change the Member for Bass, and the only way as far as we know to deliver the Hospice project here in the Launceston General Hospital precinct is to elect Ross Hart and change the Member for Bass. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Is this something that the State Government or other medical bodies have been asking for?
BUTLER: As I think Ross alluded to, we've had mixed messages from the state Liberals over the last several years about this. Now, I'm really hopeful that this commitment, a down payment of $5 million to kick start the capital for this project, will be met with a cooperative spirit, a constructive spirit from the Tasmanian State Government and I'm hopeful that the new Premier Jeremy Rockliff will take a more positive approach to this than we've seen in the past.
We have to partner on this. There has to be a state government at the table working with the Commonwealth Government willing to make a capital commitment and certainly, if we're elected, we want to focus on unity, upon cooperation. Not the sort of focus we've seen under Scott Morrison, about picking fights with state premiers instead of working with them.
JOURNALIST: It'd be a brave Health Minister to turn down any kind of have any kind of help in Tasmania given the state of our hospitals, but I imagine there might be other, not to undermine the value of this particular project, but there might be other things we're particularly calling for given how bad things are. So why haven't those been things that have been considered?
BUTLER: This is something the community has identified now for many, many years and I'm sure Barb will want to talk about that more. And I've heard those messages now for a couple of years at least. I'm deeply committed to high quality end of life services across the country and have been for many years going back to my time as the Minister for Ageing.
This is a relatively modest project. We're committing $5 million to the capital. It will be built inside the LGH Precinct, a part of the master plan, but in a sensitive hospice-specific way. I'm just really hopeful that Jeremy Rockliff and the State Government see this for what it is, which is us, Federal Labor, extending the hand of partnership to the State Government to deliver something this community desperately wants and desperately needs.
JOURNALIST: What about the whole facility cost, and where do you see the rest of the funds coming from?
BUTLER: The operational funds are something that would be covered by the usual financing arrangements that are shared between the Commonwealth and state. Obviously the delivery of the service, as with all of these services in the LGH precinct, are the responsibility of the state, but they are co-funded by the Commonwealth as well, and I'm sure the Premier understands that but you remember that.
But you’ll remember, I think I was across the road with the Friends of Northern Hospice and I think Ross might have been there, certainly Senator Polley was, when Rebecca White committed to this project, exactly this project at the last state election.
Now she's not been able to deliver that, obviously, but that the capital cost of that of around $5 million is the commitment we're making today.
JOURNALIST: A major redevelopment of the LGH is already underway, and that master plan has been released. Is this something extra that needs to be put into the master plan?
BUTLER: We think this needs to be incorporated into the master plan. You know, we've said that very clearly. We think the delivery of this service, although it is very different to a hospital service, I really do stress that, that the nature of the design needs to be very hospice-specific, needs to have Friends of Northern Hospice at the table feeding into that. But it does need to be delivered as part of this master plan, and we really want to sit down with State Government an ensure that can be delivered.
BARB BAKER, FRIENDS OF NORTHERN HOSPICE: I feel like this is a new beginning today for Launceston, for anyone who may have a terminal illness and many people into the future. So thank you so much to Ross, to Mark, and to Helen. We couldn't have done this without you. It is a huge commitment and I can't really add to anything that Mark has said today in the way he's described the hospice. He’s got it. He gets it.
What I will say is that the Liberal Government are already caring for these people within the hospital at twice the cost of what it will be in a hospice. We could take 10 people out of that hospital today and free up 10 beds and give people a better end of life here. We can care for their families as well.
We do not want to hear of anymore deaths in storerooms. And that's no slight against the care at the hospital, they have nowhere to put them. They can come into a hospice, and thanks to a commitment like we have today, we need to move forward and do that.
We've had promising talks with Jeremy Rockliff in recent weeks and we feel sure that he will work with this plan. He has to.
JOURNALIST: Given that there had been that redevelopment released as we heard, were you disappointed that this hasn't been something that's been included, and were you really given a reason why?
BAKER: We've had so many disappointments in the last 15 years, it was just another one. So that's why I think we can't look back. We have to look forward and we now implore Jeremy Rockliff and Michael Ferguson, who now holds the purse strings, whose let us down so many times in the past, now's the time for him to step up and actually fulfil his commitment that he made to one of our very staunch supporters Dr John Morris just before he died, that he would make sure these wishes for better end of life care were carried out.
So in honour of Doctor Morris and all of our supporters who have gone now, that is what's kept us going and we will keep on with this and we are really buoyed by this announcement today.
JOURNALIST: This is at least the third time it's been promised. How likely do you think it is to happen this time though?
BAKER: We’re very confident this time. Third time lucky.
JOURNALIST: For those who don't have any personal experience with end of life care, can you give us just a bit of an insight on how important these sort of facilities are for families?
BAKER: People will never forget being with someone when they have a good death. And they will always remember a bad death.
So we can give holistic care to people. It's not just about the person who's dying, it's about their family. It’s not only old people who die, young people die too. You know, young mothers with children. In the previous hospice, we had a 21st birthday party, we had a pre-wedding party, we had a baptism.
It's not just about old people dying, this is about taking care of anyone in the community who needs quality end-of-life care.
JOURNALIST: This has been 15 years of fight for you. Why is it important to you? Why are you still fighting for this?
BAKER: I know how good it can be and I know how it's not being done well at the moment. So that's exactly why we've kept going with this, and my supporters are here today, especially my long-suffering husband. It's just so important that this gets up and running.
JOURNALIST: I have one more question for Mark if that's okay. Tasmania has reached its 50th COVID death today. Do you have any response to that?
BUTLER: It's a reminder that the pandemic is still with us. We all hope that the worst of the pandemic is behind us, but across the country we're still seeing tens of thousands of cases each day. We're seeing hundreds and hundreds of people across our hospitals in wards with COVID and tragically we're seeing sort of some 10s of deaths every day as well. So we can't be complacent, we still have to improve our level of third dose or booster vaccination rates, I think the Government frankly have dropped their sense of energy and urgency around that. There are still many, many people who are eligible for a booster or third dose who haven't yet got it. There's no real sense of urgency around the advertising campaign from the Government about that. We really need to lift our numbers in terms of vaccinations or 5- to 11-year-olds as well.
Today's death is a tragedy. There will be more deaths, I'm sure reported today on the mainland, which are tragedies as well. This pandemic is not over and we can't take our foot off the pedal in the drive to make sure that people are protected through vaccination.