Regional Ambulance Services | MOTION


Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart) (12:10): I rise to support the member for Mount Gambier in the unamended motion. It reflects very poorly on the government to come in here and use their numbers to change the intent of motions from opposition and other members of parliament. The member for Mount Gambier has done a great deal of work with regard to the issue of ambulance cover for South Australians when needed interstate. He represents the highest number of constituents within South Australia very close to a border.

Of course, many of us have the same issue with our constituents. The electorate of Stuart, which I represent, borders three states, as does the electorate of Giles. The electorate of Chaffey has a very high population very close to the Victorian border. This is an issue that affects all of us and is very important. The government did backflip and, as often happens here, the opposition knows that it contributed to getting the government to change its mind, which is a positive thing. I am sure the government knows that it saw that what it was considering doing was not the right thing to do, so the government did the right thing and changed its mind. It actually does not really matter; we did get a result.

What I want to say is that we got a temporary result. We need to get this issue fixed permanently, and there are some other issues with regard to ambulance officers that are very important. We get extraordinarily good service from professional and volunteer ambulance officers across our state, but it is getting harder and harder to get volunteers to step up to do it. That is true in general across a whole range of work in community areas, but it is harder than it needs to be with regard to ambulance officers.

I know an enormous number of volunteer ambulance officers as friends and as constituents. They come to me regularly. The most recent time, by coincidence, was an email from a friend and volunteer ambulance officer in Jamestown saying that they have such a small corps of people that, as they cannot get more people up, trained and qualified as volunteers, the small group already there is getting burnt out way too fast. She was saying to me, ‘We just can’t keep going this way.’

It is unfair on the existing volunteers, and it is unfair on the volunteers who are trying to get trained, and there are some good people who have stepped up and who have offered their services, skill, free time and that sort of thing. They are finding it so cumbersome and so difficult to get through the training process, and one of the reasons is that it is hard to get a training course made available in a regional area if there is not a sufficient number of trainees who are going to attend.

If you are in an area where the population is low and it is hard to get volunteers anyway, of course it is going to be very hard to get the sufficient number to run the course, and then you have actually turned off those few who are willing to participate. They go away and say, ‘Gee, I would like to, but it’s going to take me two or sometimes three years to get through this training, so what is the point?’ Quite understandably, the person says, ‘Maybe I will offer my time, skill and capacity in another area instead.’ You cannot blame them for that. They are the reasons why we are low on volunteers.

There is another thing that puts volunteers off, and I have to say that I continue to be very angry about this issue. It used to be that volunteer ambulance officers in regional areas could come to an agreement with a local community organisation that was running a significant event, an event of the size or type that meant it was appropriate to have volunteer ambulance people, or any ambulance people, available on site.

The local ambulance station, full of volunteers, could come to an agreement with the local community organisation that might be running a rodeo, a significant concert, a motorsport event or something like that, and they would say, ‘Don’t worry. You need ambulance here. We will come and we will bring our ambulance. We will be there for the entire event as volunteers and, in return for that your community event, will donate some money back to the ambulance to help with our training and equipment and to help us do a better job as volunteers.’

Only a few years ago, the government stopped that. The government said, ‘Oh, no, we’re not having this anymore.’ The government said that any donation that goes to ambulance cannot go from the local community group to the local station. The money must go into SAAS centrally and then SAAS will decide if ever it wants to distribute it back out. So, guess what? Those volunteers in the local town, who were prepared to give up their whole afternoon and evening to be there in uniform with their ambulance to offer the support that was needed, say, ‘What for now? We’re happy to help, but this is a community fundraising event.’

I am talking about not-for-profit community events where the money goes back into the local community, but the government and SAAS have prevented any of that money going directly back into the volunteer ambulance station that provides the service that allows the event to proceed. It is a ridiculous and crazy situation. It must be addressed and it is having a seriously negative impact upon people’s willingness to volunteer because they are asking, ‘What for? We want to do this because we want to look after our community, and there has been a way to make it all go around so that everybody got a benefit.’ The money from the community event would allow the local branch to do a better job over time, so that is something that absolutely must be addressed.

There are many aspects of the member for Mount Gambier’s motion I would like to address, but in the short time left let me touch on a few country health issues. I was alarmed to learn a statistic about seven years ago that the difference in average life expectancy between metropolitan people and country and outback people was 17 years. That is an alarming statistic. It is also worth putting on the record that at the time it was the same difference in life expectancy between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in our state, and that is unacceptable as well, completely unacceptable.

What I was so surprised about at the time, knowing the statistic as it related to Aboriginal versus non-Aboriginal people, was to find out that metropolitan versus country statistic at the time was the same number. Both those statistics are completely unacceptable and neither of those statistics have improved significantly in the last several years and that is a great shame on our system. I am not pointing my finger at anybody particularly, but that is a great shame on our system.

Picking up on the comments I heard from the member for Chaffey and the member for Schubert, it does come down to resources. We on this side of the chamber have a very different attitude to the government’s attitude when it comes to country health. The government spends an enormous amount of money on health, and I have believed for a long time, and I have said it in this place quite a few times, that the health portfolio is the toughest portfolio, so I take my hat off to the people who step up to take on that job.

It is the toughest of all the portfolios but, when it comes down to picking priorities, the fact that the job is so hard, the fact that the health portfolio is difficult, that the money is so tight, that you cannot turn people away, that you budget for the number of people who might need the care and you cannot say, ‘I am sorry we have reached a quota for the month or year,’ and that you have an extremely high, in excess of 10 per cent inflation rate in the health industry, all make it tough. What would not be tough would be to give country people access to the support and services that they need in the same way as city people.

I understand that country people will come to Adelaide for care and health, as they always should. We do not do cardiac surgery in the country and I do not advocate that we ever do. Anybody from the country who needs cardiac surgery is going to have to go to the city for that; that is just as it is, and it makes sense. But city people go to the country, too. They have family in the country, they go on holidays in the country and they participate in community or sporting events in the country. Country people deserve as much support as city people do.

The comments that the member for Schubert and the member for Chaffey made are spot on: the share of government funding going to country health services is insufficient and insufficient by comparison with the share of health services that go to metropolitan people. That is an issue that absolutely must be addressed. There are 17 hospitals that the people of Stuart access: Port Augusta, Leigh Creek, Kapunda, Eudunda, Jamestown, Booleroo, Orroroo, Peterborough and Burra, just in the electorate. There are another eight just outside of the electorate of Stuart, which are the closest hospitals to my constituents in Stuart. Their closest hospital is just outside.

There are 17 hospitals that provide tremendous support, but the people who work in those hospitals, as great as they are at what they do, tell me that they are getting worn down by government policy.