New Royal a lost chance: Lennon
A decade ago, the Labor government was advised that renovating the Royal was not going to serve the needs of Tasmania, says Paul Lennon
FORMER Labor Premier Paul Lennon has weighed in to the debate on Tasmania’s health crisis, lamenting successive governments’ inability to deliver a new Hobart hospital.
In an opinion piece in today’s Mercury, Mr Lennon defends his government’s legacy on the Royal Hobart Hospital.
“Construction of a brand new Royal Hobart Hospital now would be well advanced at Macquarie Point had subsequent governments stuck to plans put in place in 2005,” he says.
Mr Lennon also reveals his government was advised a redevelopment on the current site would be a “nightmare”.
“The reason I wanted a new hospital was quite simply because I firmly believed that we needed a RHH that could manage the growing needs of the Tasmanian community for at least the next 75 years. The advice my government had was that this would not be possible if all we did was to do a patch-up job on the existing hospital,” he says.
“There were also concerns that trying to renovate the existing hospital would become a planning nightmare, resulting in frustration for doctors, nurses and patients and ending in significant cost overruns.”
He denies being responsible for the failure of the new hospital project, saying his govern- ment got as far as moving the Hobart railyards to Brighton to free up space, setting aside funding for detailed planning for the new hospital and building up a “war chest” to pay for it.
“I can’t say why the decision changed in the years after I retired — that is for other people to answer. What I can say with certainty is that it was not too late in 2014 for the incoming Hodgman Government to build a new greenfield hospital.”
Mr Lennon resigned from state parliament in May 2008 amid plummeting personal support and a slump in the polls for Labor.
One of the Hodgman Liberal Government’s key election promises in 2014 was to “rescue” the Royal Hobart Hospital project.
The restarted $689 million redevelopment is due for completion mid-next year.
The Mercury recently revealed overcrowding at the hospital was so severe health officials were planing to put patients in alcoves and storerooms at times when the hospital was struggling to cope with demand.
CONSTRUCTION of a brand new Royal Hobart Hospital now would be well advanced at Macquarie Point had subsequent governments stuck to plans put in place in 2005.
Claims by Simon Bevilacqua that I squandered $800 million of funds set aside for construction of a new RHH and thereby “condemned the Royal to years, perhaps decades, of unnecessary turmoil” are simply wrong ( Mercury, September 29).
As premier I strongly supported and planned for construction of a new hospital on a greenfield site — something no premier before, or since, has done.
The government I led in 2005 and subsequently after the 2006 election was committed to constructing the new hospital as close to the Hobart CBD as possible.
We demonstrated this with action, not just words.
After a comprehensive study of a number of different sites, my government decided to set aside six hectares on the old railway yards at Macquarie Point.
To achieve this we did a number of things. First we built up a war chest to fund it. The Treasurer’s 2008 annual report shows that at June 30, 2008, the state was $1.031 billion in the black — an improvement of over $600 million on the previous year.
Furthermore, the Budget in that year recorded a cash surplus in excess of $300 million.
Keeping in mind that I retired from parliament in May that year, this alone demonstrates the gross error of the claim that my government squandered the money.
Secondly, before we could embark on a new hospital, we had to spend money on the old RHH to guarantee provision of necessary services while the new one was being built.
Between 2005 and 2007 funds were committed to fix up the children’s wards, build new operating theatres, construct a new accident and emergency ward and install new equipment such as a Linear Accelerator machine inside the existing RHH. And my government funded the employment of an additional 450 staff.
Thirdly we had to build a new $70 million intermodal freight hub at Brighton so all the transport operations of the new site, including the railways, could be moved to free up the land for the hospital. Finally, in the 2007-08 budget, my last as premier, funding was provided to commence the detailed planning for the new hospital.
The reason I wanted a new hospital was quite simply because I firmly believed we needed an RHH that could manage the growing needs of the Tasmanian community for at least the next 75 years. The advice my government had was that this would not be possible if all we did was a patch-up job on the existing hospital. There were also concerns that trying to renovate the existing hospital would become a planning nightmare, resulting in frustration for doctors, nurses and patients and ending in significant cost overruns.
The complexity and cost of the project was a significant challenge for any government and came with big political risks.
All major decisions are about priorities. If you decide to spend upwards of $1 billion on a new hospital in Hobart then you have to make compromises somewhere else. But that is the role of good government — to make the tough calls and risk damage to your popularity. My ethos as premier always was to be financially responsible, economically aggressive, socially progressive and culturally confident.
The public expects nothing less of their government than they have the strength of character to make the tough decisions in their best long-term interests no matter how unpopular or difficult they may seem at the time.
The record of the government of Jim Bacon in which I was deputy premier and the government I led as premier speaks for itself. The stolen generations reparation, Aboriginal land handback legislation, Basslink electricity cable, trading hours reform, the purchase of Spirits 1 and 2, the natural gas pipeline and the conversion of the Bell Bay power station, Woolnorth wind farm, Barnbougle golf course, the Airwalk at Geeveston, the start of the Three Capes walking track, the Meander dam, the Tasmanian Irrigation scheme, securing of the Ta Ann rotary peeling wood plant, and the redevelopment of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery are some of the major projects in which I was directly involved.
These days too many politicians shy from the tough and difficult decisions fearing the backlash in favour of populism.
I can’t say why the decision changed in the years after I retired — that is for other people to answer.
What I can say with certainty is that it was not too late in 2014 for the incoming Hodgman Government to build a new greenfield hospital.
At that stage only the money necessary to allow the RHH to continue to operate effectively had been spent. The redevelopment of the old hospital had not then commenced.
We needed an RHH that could manage the growing needs of the community for at least 75 years.The advice my government had was that this would not be possible if all we did was a patch-up job on the existing hospital