ON October 31, 1901 – less than a year after Australian federation – NSW Parliament’s Upper House exercised its considerable energies discussing an issue that few thought would be controversial – the Maitland Hospital Enabling Bill.
But controversial it ended up being.
The Bill called for funds raised by a Maitland Hospital committee to be diverted from maintaining the existing hospital, to build a new hospital. The government proposed matching the committee’s funds, pound for pound.
Reading Hansard from that day is like reading the Hansard of 116 years later, when the subject of Maitland Hospital has come up for debate.
Like debate in 2017, the 1901 Parliament was told that the existing hospital was “not at all suited to the purposes for which a hospital is required” by a “very populous locality”.
Port Stephens-born MP Henry Dangar jumped to his feet during debate in 1901 to say he did “not propose to mix myself up in any of the squabbles that are apparently going on with regard to this Maitland Hospital”.
But the Bill eventually passed. The new hospital was built.
For at least the past six years the future of Maitland Hospital has been the subject of strong debate after a NSW Coalition campaign promise to build the facility. Labor Maitland MP Jenny Aitchison has made the new Maitland Hospital a key commitment since her election, with a prominent clock on her website counting off, by the second, the time since the Coalition promise.
As of Tuesday, it had been 2336 days since that promise. It was also the day NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard drew a line under the highly controversial public/private model announced in 2016, with a plan for a new $450 million hospital at Metford after a not-for-profit provider is “approached” to build and run it.
The announcement came only days after the government also ruled out a privatised Wyong Hospital.
There is much to commend in the new Maitland Hospital model – particularly cancer services – and it is clear Mr Hazzard has consulted widely to address people’s quite reasonable concerns.
There are obvious questions that still need to be answered, but the minister deserves credit for listening to the community, and responding.