Country Health Services | SPEECH


Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN ( Stuart ) ( 15:30 :15 ): I rise today to speak about a growing and glaring problem with regard to country health in the electorate of Stuart. Mr Speaker, as you may well know, north-east of Port Augusta, up into the Flinders Ranges, and further on to the Cooper Basin is a very important part of our state. It is an important area that the state government says it is focusing on with regard to tourism. It is a very important area of the state with regard to the oil and gas sector, the transport sector, the pastoral industry, retail, and a range of other very important industries.

Very unfortunately, we find ourselves with a lack of leadership, a lack of support and a lack of provision of any policy whatsoever from the government with regard to country health services, and particularly with regard to GPs in the area. Mr Speaker, you would be very well aware of the fact that Alinta shut its coalmine and its power station at Port Augusta, and that has meant a significant transition for the Leigh Creek township and all of the surrounding communities. The government has said that, for the meantime at least, it will retain police, education and health services in the area.

But the government has not made any provision whatsoever, certainly not publicly and I suspect not in the background either, with regard to the delivery of health services in the Leigh Creek area post 31 December this year, when the local doctor’s practice will finish up because that is when the financial support that has historically been provided by Alinta to that practice will finish. The 31st of December is not very far away: six weeks. That comes on top of the government’s negotiations coming to a standstill, as far as I have been advised, to renew the contract for the GP working at Hawker, the next town south of Leigh Creek.

I am advised that the GP working at Hawker has said that she would accept a lower remuneration than has historically been provided to that post, but Country Health SA has asked that doctor to accept even less than that. Without going into more details of what are, quite appropriately, private negotiations, I think that is a very fair characterisation of the discussions. That contract runs out at the end of December as well. The government is not telling the communities what it intends to do to provide a medical service to the north-east of South Australia.

There is a GP service at Quorn, but that GP service is also very busy. It is actually quite hard to get an appointment quickly with the practice at Quorn. That is not a criticism: that is just how it is. It is a very popular practice. From Quorn all the way to the western New South Wales, south-western Queensland and southern Northern Territory borders, it appears that in six weeks’ time we will have no doctor. The Royal Flying Doctor Service will no doubt do an absolutely outstanding job doing the best they can to backfill, but I call urgently and earnestly on the Minister for Health particularly, and the government more broadly, to tell the people of this district what they intend to do with regard to the provision of health services.

As I said before, the government said that it will keep the school, the police station and the hospital running at Leigh Creek, but if there is no GP in the district and there is not even a GP at Hawker then the government will probably find it very difficult to attract police officers and their families, and teachers and their families, to come to the district if there is not going to be a doctor. For example, if a police officer has the opportunity to take his or her family to Leigh Creek or to Lameroo, it may well be a very easy decision for that family to go where there is a higher level of medical care.

This is not only about Leigh Creek, this is about the very important communities of Marree, Lyndhurst, Copley, Nepabunna, Beltana, Parachilna and Blinman who all rely on this service. It is also about servicing the transport industry and the tourism industry. It is very hard to convince a family to take an outback driving holiday into a district if there is not going to be a doctor versus them knowing that there is a fully operating hospital, medical service and GP. I call upon the government to urgently explain to these communities, to the pastoralists and the many people who live and work there and want to attract others to live and work in the district, exactly what it will do regarding the provision of medical services.