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

Mercury (Hobart) - - NEWSFRONT - BLAIR RICHARDS

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

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