No Confidence Motion - Chief Ministers Speech to the ACT Legislative Assembly

“Mr Speaker, when I entered this parliament back in 2001, I made a promise to myself – and to the community I represent – to always work hard, to work diligently, to always act in the best interests of the community, to act honestly, to act with decency and to act with integrity. I have stayed true to that promise and I always will.”

No Confidence Motion

Chief Ministers Speech to the ACT Legislative Assembly

22 August 2012

(Check against delivery)

Mr Speaker,

As Members would be aware it is my normal practice to debate matters that come before this chamber in a serious and considered fashion. To show respect to the forms and the practices of the Assembly, even when I disagree with the substance of what’s being discussed.

But today we have a motion that is simply beneath the contempt of this place. It is a motion designed not for any substantive accountability or scrutiny purpose. It is purely for political effect.

It is an unserious motion brought by an unserious party. A party with nothing to offer but the politics of innuendo, conspiracy and muck.

Taking his lead from the Abbott playbook, you have Mr Seselja apparently willing to say or do anything in an attempt to get into office.

Regardless of the truth, regardless of the effects on the lives of others, regardless of the decency or decorum that Canberrans expect of their political leaders, Mr Seselja, ably assisted by his hollow health shadow, Jeremy Hanson, persists in this tawdry strategy – of slinging mud instead of engaging in ideas, of casting aspersions instead of constructing a policy platform.

It is not the strategy of a serious alternative government.

It is not the strategy of a party of honour or ideas.

It is the strategy of bullies and of wreckers.

The matters raised in this motion have been canvassed extensively and dealt with conclusively by a forensic audit undertaken by Price Waterhouse Coopers, the Select Committee on Estimates, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts and the Auditor-General.

An action plan has already been put in place to address the recommendations of the two audits carried out, including new data collection and validation processes. I have written to all my colleagues interstate and I understand several of them are looking at their data processes in light of the learnings in the Auditor General’s report. We will of course respond to the PAC committee report in due course. None of these investigations, none of the evidence presented and none of the conclusions arising from these independent processes found any wrongdoing on my part.

None.

If we look specifically at what the Auditor-General had to say in relation to the manipulation of hospital records:

There was no direct or indirect instruction by any other person, including the Minister for Health.

Now this is not me saying this. This is the Auditor-General. The person with powers virtually equivalent to those of a royal commissioner, who took evidence under oath, and who made a finding. And that finding was that I did none of the things that this opposition is wanting so desperately for people to believe.

But now the Liberals wish to have another go, another stab at trying to tarnish the public health system, my reputation and that of my family.

A well respected Australian once told me “Leadership is easy when everything is going well, the true test of leadership comes when problems arise” I believe that a Minister is measured by their response to challenges, to opportunities and to crises.

I have no regrets on this score. In relation to the ED data issue, I acted as soon as the issue came to my attention. I have answered every question asked of me, on every occasion. I have offered to appear before estimates, I asked the Auditor General to investigate and I provided the community with all the information I could at every step of the process.

I publically declared the potential for a conflict of interest and I stood aside from Ministerial responsibility for the investigation.

I seeked to protect the privacy of others particularly my sister – I thought that was fair and decent – the one thing I underestimated was the nastiness of the Canberra Liberals and in particular Jeremy Hanson and the levels he would sink to in his pursuit of me.

I simply never believed that he would seek to slander the reputation of a nurse of 24 years service in the most public of ways. Well congratulations to you Mr Hanson, something you can be so very proud of. My decision, had it been respected by others, to not identify my sister was done for a good reason – since you’ve identified her Mr Hanson and the location of where she was working, she has had her privacy at work compromised and received a phone call – at the general ward desk – from a person purporting to be a journalist, seeking to interview her. Her location at work is now known to anyone who wants to find her.  Well done Mr Hanson. We know that nothing gives you greater pleasure than to viscously pursue innocent parties for your own political purpose. So give yourself another pat on the back for that one Mr Hanson. Meanwhile a busy dedicated nurse continues to deal with the fallout of your actions. I note the Public Accounts Committee report’s recommendation regarding an apology to the officer responsible for the data changes – an apology that has already been provided – strangely I didn’t come across a similar recommendation requiring the Assembly to apologise for the unwarranted slurs made against my sister – also in the most public of ways.  And today I am calling upon the Canberra liberals to do the decent and right thing and provide that overdue public apology to her.

The Canberra Liberals will be judged harshly by the people of Canberra for this nasty campaign of theirs.

Canberrans see through the mock outage and the daily slurs and the relentless, mindless negativity. They know what substance looks like, they know what decency looks like and they see precious little of it in this current opposition.

In fact, the Liberals don’t even have the guts to make a specific allegation. Instead they rely on innuendo and smear. They say it all with a nudge and a wink.

Mr Speaker, everyone in this chamber today – along with the majority of Canberrans – knows exactly what this motion is about.

It’s about politics.

It’s not about the health system.

It’s the Liberal Party sticking to the lazy habits of the past four years: sleeping late, arriving in the office to the realisation that another day has passed without anything to show, and then falling back on their favourite method of distracting people from how lazy they really are in attacking me, in the hope that one day they can sneak one past the community.

What they don’t seem to get, is that Canberrans are smarter than to confuse loud words and manufactured outrage with substance.

For my part, I’m very happy for them to waste the weeks leading up to October, having a go at me rather than setting out an alternate vision for Canberra. I suppose that is their prerogative.

Or I would be happy except for one thing. In attacking me, the Liberals don’t care about who else might be standing in the way. They don’t care who they hurt, whose reputations they trash, whose vulnerabilities they expose, who they distress, who they malign, who they defame under the cover of parliamentary privilege, in their pursuit of me.

And that, Mr Speaker, is the really revolting thing about the Liberal way of doing business.

Everyone and everything is fair game for the Liberals. The very institutions of this town are fair game. Our wonderful public hospitals and other public health facilities are fair game. The Canberra Liberals don’t mind trashing these facilities, if they think they might get to me through the rubble and ruin.

To attack me, they Liberals will risk undermining public confidence in our world-class public health system, when we, as an Assembly should be building it up.

To attack me, they’ll attack staff: doctors, nurses, administrators, the, hard-working men and women at the frontline of service delivery.

It’s simply indecent and deeply dishonourable for the Liberals to make the claims they have made, very publicly, and in what the leader of the opposition has done publicly again today, about our public hospital system.

At this point it’s probably worth thinking back and reminding ourselves of just what things were like in the public hospital system that the Liberals used to run.

Let’s have a look at what we had then and perhaps more importantly what we didn’t have.

We didn’t have 926 beds, like we do now. By the time the Liberals had blown up a hospital and closed 114 beds we were left with just 670 beds.

We didn’t have 12 operating theatres, like we do now. The Liberals could only just cope with five.  We weren’t delivering 11,000 elective surgeries a year, as we do now. The Liberals managed just 6,852.

We didn’t directly employ 671 doctors in the ACT and 2144 full time equivalent nurses and midwives. The Liberals scraped by with fewer than 300 doctors and less than 1300 nurses.

There wasn’t a nurse-led walk-in-clinic.

There wasn’t a mental health assessment unit, or the popular step-up step-down mental-health facilities. They couldn’t even manage an adequate mental health unit.

There wasn’t any complex eye surgery procedures or state-of-the-art treatments for head and neck trauma.

There wasn’t a dedicated neuro-suite performing life saving surgery.

There wasn’t a dedicated hospital for women and children where, right now, Canberra babies are being born in facilities that are as fine as any in the world, watched over and cared for by staff who are as good as any in the world.

There was no purpose built radiation oncology bunker equipped with 4 radiation oncology machines achieving amazing results like there is now.

There was no vision for community health centres like the new ones we are rolling out across the city – in Gunghalin, Tuggeranong and Belconnen to ease pressure off the hospitals and to allow people to access health care close to where they live.

There was no neonatal intensive care unit video streaming service.

No digital mammography.

No surgical assessment unit, no medical assessment unit.

No integrated cancer centre.

No adequate parking at the Canberra Hospital.

No Village Creek facility.

No PET/CT scanner.

No additional increases for sub-acute care for respite for cancer patients.

No comprehensive E-health program.

There wasn’t a second cardiac catheter lab either.

Or the capacity we have created in hospital in the home services.

No patient safety and quality unit changes that were implemented after the Dr Newcombe case.

No GP liaison in the hospital.

No dedicated phone service for GPs to contact doctors in the hospital.

No paediatric ED service.

No paediatric waiting area in the ED.

No volunteers program in ED.

There was no comprehensive strategy to deal with the management of chronic disease.

No home telemonitoring.

No chronic disease telephone coaching service.

No capital region retrieval service.

No ACT neotnatal emergency transfer service.

No impact program for vulnerable families.

No mental health community policing program.

No risky foot clinic.

No purpose built discharge lounge.

No support for GPs or GPs-in-training – no scholarships, infrastructure payments or training payments.

There was no plan about the care of sub-acute patients like the one we’re planning with a new sub acute facility.

No Canberra Hospital Foundation, undertaking fundraising for the community by the community.

There was no sleep laboratory.

No surgeries being performed at Queanbeyan Hospital.

No planning for regional health services.

No GP aged day care service visiting elderly Canberran’s in nursing homes.

Now that’s the health system that the liberals so fondly remember.

A picture of inadequate investment, inadequate planning, not enough services and no plan for the future.

We have made our health, our priority, we have invested record amounts in health and addressed these inadequate services, inadequate bed numbers and increased the workforce.

While the Liberals closed beds and blew up a hospital and reduced, actually reduced, nursing numbers, we  have strategically and methodically invested in health, year after year, delivering more services, more doctors and nurses, more community facilities, more care to more Canberrans when and where they need it.

These targeted investments have transformed our health system and enabled us to deliver new, exciting and innovative services, that have never before provided in Canberra.

Running alongside service delivery is the public health policy work such as  – some of the toughest tobacco control measures around; food safety laws that are giving Canberrans greater confidence when they eat out; a major review of the Mental Health Act, and new strategies to deal with some of our most challenging health issues – chronic disease, renal services and diabetes.

Now every one of these reforms and every one of these services, is fair game for the Liberals, with their simplistic cherry-picking of the facts and their sweeping statements of condemnation. I do wonder if the Liberals were banned from talking about ED waiting times or median wait times in elective surgery whether they would have anything at all the say about the health system. An interesting test perhaps for the fourth estate.

Mr Speaker, Canberrans have much to be proud of in their public health system, its doctors and its nurses, its allied health professionals and its facilities.

Now I’m not standing here saying our health system is perfect. No health system anywhere in the world is perfect. Health systems are human systems. There is always room for improvement and there are always areas of pressure. But the health system is complex, it’s like a puzzle where all the pieces are interrelated and depend on each other to build the complete picture. If you look at any health system you will find areas where they do well and areas where they don’t. That’s a fact.

I agree with the Auditor General’s observation that there is a lack of focus on qualitative indicators in assessing emergency department performance.  As I have previously informed the Assembly, I have been raising this issue at the national level and urging my interstate colleagues to work with me to create a new set of performance measures which focuses on patient outcomes and fairly treats small jurisdictions with limited hospitals in a similar way as the larger jurisdictions.

A good start would be to be able to reach agreement on how to manage waiting lists in elective surgery to allow for consistency and agreement on what starts the clock in the Emergency Department.  Timeliness is one way of measuring the health system but it’s not the only way and should be seen in the context of the outcomes delivered. And those outcomes, for Canberrans are excellent – low rates of hospital acquired infections, low re-admission rates, the lowest levels of interventions during birth for first time mothers, and excellent cancer survival rates.

This is the system the Liberals trash and talk down. And we all know why they talk everything down. It’s because they have nothing of their own to talk up.

Let’s look at the Liberal Party’s health policies for an election which is a little over two months away.

They only have one: they’ll close the nurse-led walk-in centre – a facility that has provided nation-leading model of care to more than 34,000 Canberrans who’ve presented at the clinic since it opened.

This policy announcement, made on the run by the shadow health spokesperson is largely in line with the attitude they bought to health when they last had responsibility – they blew up a hospital, closed 114 beds, reduced nursing numbers–and  this time their first act will be to close the walk-in –centre and maybe have a review of something.

I’ll gladly debate the Liberal Party any time on health policy. Because I’ve actually got one to debate.

I’ll debate the Liberal Party any time on performance too. I’ve delivered and I’ve got plenty more yet to do.

I’ll debate the Liberal Party on vision.

I’ll debate the Liberal party on decency and values.

Unsurprisingly, the Liberals don’t want to have the substantive debates (unless of course as we learned last week they can dictate who is speaking, when they’re speaking and what we are allowed to discuss)

Mr Speaker, for the first time since self government we have the plans in place to meet the health care needs of our community. Our Health Infrastructure Program – more than a billion dollars of targeted capital investment – is transforming the places we deliver care and the way in which we provide health care. New hospital buildings, new community health infrastructure, new sterilising facilities, and a new sub acute care hospital.

If we are re-elected, we will expand the nurse-led walk-in centre model and I have announced plans to deliver mobile dental care to some of our most vulnerable residents – elderly residents of aged care facilities and students attending special schools.

Mr Speaker, these Liberals over here don’t want to debate me on vision, because they know how they’d come off.

They’d rather make grubby insinuations about me and my family – because they don’t have to prove anything, they just have to plant a seed of doubt. If innocent people get hurt, oh well they’d rather trash the public confidence in a public hospital system that is among the best in the world.

There’s no low too low. No rumour they won’t whisper.

As they have so little self-awareness that they don’t understand how ironic it is that they bring a motion today, which centres on the manipulation of data, and then base their entire disgraceful denigration of an entire hospital system on figures used out of context, and then only using the figures -specifically picked to suit their story.

Two rigorous audits have absolutely and utterly exonerated me. So what do the Liberals do? They trash those audits too – and, in the process, they trash the professionals who conducted them. The Liberals demand another process.  If that didn’t deliver the result they were looking for you can bet they’d ask for something else again, trashing someone else’s professional reputation, concocting another conspiracy theory.

Contrast their approach with ours, following the McLeod report in Mr Seselja’s gross mismanagement of his office. The only thing he does actually administer. When that audit came out – despite what we knew and what we saw – we accepted the findings of the audit. We didn’t agree with them but we accepted them.  We didn’t go after Mr Seselja’s family – we didn’t demand that the legal advice the Canberra Liberals took in relation to the audit be tabled – We took that decision because its how decent people behave. Respect the process and accept the umpire’s decision, even if you disagree.

Mr Speaker, Last week there was a letter to the Editor in the Canberra Times that summed up what I believe many Canberrans will think about this motion, what they will think about the wasted week of our collective time, and the grinding, pointless, tedious template negativity of the Canberra Liberals.

The letter was headed, “Enough petty politics”. It read in part, “Let us stop the federal disease spreading into Canberra. Petty politics for the sake of politics is counter-productive and that’s what we are seeing from the Canberra Liberals as they try to smear the Chief Minister in preparation for their vote of no confidence in the Assembly.”

It is interesting, that use of the word “disease”.  We deal with physical disease very well in this community, whatever the Liberal Party might pretend. We have a world-class hospital system, backed up by world-class community health facilities and a great primary health care system delivered by GPs.

The disease referred to by the letter writer is a more insidious one, but it too can be dealt with.

And it too can be beaten.

Canberrans will judge my Government on its record, come October 20. I’ll spend the days between now and then laying out my vision for this community and this city over the next four years.

For whatever reason, and to their great shame, this is something that the Canberra Liberals are unwilling or unable to do.

Mr Speaker, when I entered this parliament back in 2001, I made a promise to myself – and to the community I represent – to always work hard, to work diligently, to always act in the best interests of the community, to act honestly, to act with decency and to act with integrity. I have stayed true to that promise and I always will.