Labor is giving no solid financial commitment to Goulburn Base Hospital’s replacement, despite saying current plans are a “patch up job.”
State Opposition leader Luke Foley has also conceded work on the $120 million redevelopment could progress too far for a turnaround by the time the March, 2019 election rolls around.
Launching candidate Ursula Stephens’ campaign in Goulburn on Thursday, Mr Foley said one of his first commitments in 2015 was a $270m pledge to a new hospital. But he declined to make any financial promise on “day one” of this 11-month campaign.
“This hospital has outgrown its footprint,” he said.
“Here we have a fast growing population, real traffic problems and a hospital that’s hemmed in. We far prefer a new facility.
“Why are people told that 20 and 30 year-old stadiums in Sydney have to to be knocked down and rebuilt but in places like Goulburn, people can make do with a century old hospital with real parking problems, which is hemmed in? I’d be calling on the government to reconsider its plans.”
He said the June State budget was an ideal opportunity for the government to invest in Goulburn’s health needs.
Asked why Labor wasn’t making a firm financial pledge, Mr Foley said the party would be in a better position to make commitments after the budget.
He also conceded that work contracts on the four-storey redevelopment could play a part.
“We have to see what the government locks into,” he said.
“We’d far prefer to see a new modern hospital than a patch-up job, but if the government enters into contracts and it’s too far down the road, then we’ll have to respond to that. There’s plenty of time and we’ll go to the election with very clear commitments on what we’ll do here, but what I’m saying is what’s proposed doesn’t go far enough.”
Public submissions on the development application closed on Monday. Health Infrastructure will be asked to respond to issues raised before the Department of Planning and Environment decides the proposal. Fencing was erected this week on the Goldsmith Street frontage in front of Springfield House, which is planned to be demolished. A date palm is also proposed to be removed from this area.
Hutchinson builders have been contracted to construct an extension for the Community Health building and procurement for the main hospital work is expected to occur later this year, pending DA approval. The redevelopment would be completed by late 2021, a spokeswoman previously said.
Mr Foley was also quizzed by Kate O’Neill, Goulburn branch president of the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association, on whether he would commit to mandated nurse to patient ratios. Currently, the hospital works to a nursing hours per patient per day formula. Mr Foley pledged the one nurse to four patient ratio in the interests of care.
Mrs O’Neill said this ratio would also mean more resources on the floor to support junior nurses, keeping them engaged and “providing greater job satisfaction” and loaning less reliance on agency nurses.
“In it to win”
Dr Stephens won Labor pre-selection for the seat of Goulburn this month. Liberal MP Pru Goward sits on a seven per cent margin. Dr Stephens would not specifically say whether this was a more realistic margin, given the 2011 seat redistribution, but told The Post the party had “clawed back ground” in 2015 when she also ran.
“We’re in this campaign to win. We have 11 months to change the hearts and minds of people across this electorate and I’m determined to do that,” she said.
Mr Foley said the hospital, jobs and schools were central issues. He argued a “$9.6m million school maintenance backlog” across the seat was reflected in this area with $662,000 in work outstanding at Goulburn High School and “over $1m at Crookwell’s two public schools.
“Basic school maintenance is being left under resourced because the government is splurging billions and billions on wasteful projects in Sydney,” he said.
Mr Foley also committed to “rebuilding TAFE”, transforming it to a centre for security and safety and community services, two sectors he believed were already strongly represented in Goulburn.
“There is no more important job than rebuilding TAFE because have 200,000 fewer students across the State than when the Liberals came to office seven years ago. Some 5000 teachers and support staff have been sacked,” he said.
“In areas like Goulburn you want to keep your kids here. How do you do that? By skilling them up through a high quality TAFE course and seizing the opportunities on offer.”
He maintained Goulburn had been “completely let down by” the government’s decision to send rail maintenance to Dubbo and to build a new prison at Dapto.
But he was loathe to support a private prison proposed for Goulburn’s outskirts by Southern infrastructure Pty Ltd. The Opposition leader said Labor preferred jails to be publicly run and operated but such bids should be looked at seriously for their potential to give young people jobs.
Dr Stephens echoed this view, acknowledged that the government had rejected the plan but said it was important to keep an open mind.
Mr Foley told The Post he fully stood by prison officers in their campaign against benchmarking at the current Goulburn facility.