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November 27, 2012

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (16:07): I rise to highlight my ongoing concerns at the lack of funding to support a much-needed redevelopment of facilities at the Latrobe Regional Hospital in my electorate. By way of background, the LRH board applied to the Commonwealth for $65 million under the Health and Hospitals Fund Regional Priority Round. I acknowledge the presence of the Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing and I appreciate her correspondence earlier this year when she advised me that applications totalling more than $3.4 billion were received for the programs, obviously exceeding the $475 million that was available at the time.

I have also been advised by correspondence from the department that LRH was eligible but, due to the strong demand in this round of funding, not all projects would proceed. Unfortunately, that leaves the Latrobe Regional Hospital in a difficult situation in that I have heard that the state and federal governments have both recognised that the need is there and the project is regarded as essential for the community but there is not a readily available source of funding or future rounds at this stage. I do recognise the difficulties the government is facing. I also recognise the difficulties the coalition is facing in this regard because of difficult budget conditions. Both sides of the House will face challenges in developing their future policies for regional hospitals.

Therefore, I encourage both sides to recognise that, while the closure of this particular program was expected, there are a number of hospitals located throughout regional Australia that are now searching for avenues of funding to support such critical developments and associated capital works. Naturally, I am very keen to see the Latrobe Regional Hospital project proceed in the future because I believe it will provide improved care for residents in Latrobe Valley and the broader Gippsland region. It is a critical project for the future of my region, with far-reaching health, social and economic benefits.

In short, we will need a future round to allow regional hospitals to undertake much-needed upgrades in partnership with state governments. The LRH staff and board do a tremendous job in quite difficult circumstances at the moment. The board chair, Kellie O’Callaghan and her team, both the paid staff and the volunteers, are working hard to meet the region’s future health needs. They have been very diligent in their efforts to raise funds. The auxiliary’s work is quite extraordinary, with a fundraising ball each year which raises tens of thousands of dollars, a fun run and a lot of other activities in which the community can demonstrate its support for Latrobe Regional Hospital. But the scale of the funding we are talking about is beyond the capacity of a community in terms of its own fundraising activities. Unfortunately, we have the situation with LRH where the growth in demand has outpaced the existing facilities, and a major upgrade is required to meet both the current demand and the future needs of the Latrobe Valley.

To be fair to the government, this is not intended as an attack on it, because my region has benefited from more than $20 million to the Gippsland Cancer Care Centre, and work is about to start on that project. On Friday I attended the official opening of the Gippsland Rotary Centenary House, which benefited from $1.5 million from the government. At that ceremony I paid credit to the government and to the minister in her absence for the bipartisan support that this project has received. Unfortunately, more needs to be done, and I encourage the government to work in partnership with state governments and the coalition in securing funding for future upgrades of regional hospitals, both in Gippsland and throughout Australia.

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