Appropriation Bill (No. 3)

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (4.00 pm)-I rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2010-2011 and the cognate bill. The Gillard government has confirmed it will accept New Zealand apple imports, signalling more proof that it has no regard for Australian farmers or Australian produce.

It is not enough that Australian apple growers have to contend with Chinese imported apples; now they have to compete against New Zealand ones as well. It is just another blow to Australian farmers, who really must feel as though they cannot take a trick. In her address to the New Zealand parliament recently, the Prime Minister confirmed that Australia will soon begin importing apples from New Zealand. 

Foreign apples should never have been allowed into our country in the first place. Our apple industry is free of fire blight and is self-sustaining. All this has done is undermine and potentially cripple what was a vibrant Australian industry, one which has meant so much to the economic prosperity of Batlow and Tumut districts, which are in my Riverina electorate, as well as many other regional areas. We have already seen what pests and diseases such as greening disease and the Asian honey bee can do to countries with horticulture and citrus. The Labor government wiped its hands of apple growers last July when it did nothing after Biosecurity Australia decided to permit Chinese apples to be imported, and now we have to contend with New Zealand apples. 

When it comes to appropriations, one project which should be at the top of any health spending is Wagga Wagga Base Hospital. If ever a hospital deserved, required or was desperate for-call it what you like- government funding assistance, it is Wagga Wagga Base Hospital. This is the major referral hospital for the Riverina and, as such, it services upwards of one-quarter of a million people. The hospital has suffered from 16 years of state Labor neglect, but, to be fair, both sides have made promises and then not fulfilled them since a new hospital was first pledged way back in 1980. That is 30 long years ago-30 years of false hope, let-down expectations and unrealised dreams. The public of Wagga Wagga and surrounds deserve much better. They are patient people, but they are growing tired of excuses, empty promises, rhetoric and downright lies. They want action. They want a new hospital. 

On Sunday, 8 August last year, as many as 4,000 people turned out in Wagga Wagga's main street, Baylis Street, to rally in support of a new hospital. They did not just come from the city and its suburbs; they came from right across the region-from Temora, West Wyalong and the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, which faces so much ongoing frustration of its own with the current water debate, thanks to this Labor government. The mayor of Tumut, Trina Thomson, spoke passionately about the need for a new Wagga Wagga Base Hospital. The previous time such a rally was held, in 2007, it attracted 2,000 people. Twice the number came out to continue the campaign. Members of the crowd carried placards and posters with a clear message: they want a new hospital for the region, not a patch-up job. 

A recount of the hospital's sorry history by cardiologist Dr Gerard Carroll dredged up every broken promise for a new facility dating back to the 1980s. Registered nurse Tanya Gleeson spoke of the horrors of treating patients in what she described as ‘a substandard, dysfunctional, decrepit building, which in places has asbestos, inefficient heating and cooling, broken facilities, mould, leaking ceilings and infection control issues'. Medical ward nursing unit manager Sharon Townsend compared the facility to Noah's Ark. The chairman of the hospital's medical staff council, Dr Richard Harrison, was the last to speak, and his words were certainly not lost on the crowd when he called for a new Wagga Wagga Base Hospital ‘now, not way into the future'. Ninety million dollars has, thankfully, been promised by the state Labor government. The New South Wales coalition, through its leader, Barry O'Farrell, has stated that the Wagga Wagga Base Hospital is the No. 1 regionalinfrastructure project in what will hopefully, surely, be the Liberal-Nationals' first term in office after the 26 March poll. That election day cannot come soon enough. 

New South Wales infrastructure made a submission to the federal government's regional round for the Health and Hospitals Fund which closed on 3 December 2010. As I said, the coalition in New South Wales promised $125 million; this regional and rural health fund has $1.8 billion for regional communities. Wagga Wagga Base Hospital should be first and foremost in priority for the fund. I call on the federal government to do the right thing and give Wagga Wagga and the Riverina a base hospital with facilities at least equal to most other communities in Australia. The locals in that part of Australia deserve nothing less.

Cristy Houghton