People not a priority in privatisation game

Mark Morey, secretary of Unions NSW

Good government is all about setting priorities.So what does that say about the Berejiklian government’s decision to privatise the new hospital inMaitland?Especially when it is spending a whopping $2.5 billion knocking down and rebuilding relatively new Sydney football grounds?

It says this government doesn’t really care about services like health, education and transport.It says this government is more interested in providing games for inner-city residents than delivering on the basics for people in the regions. In short, it says everything we need to know.

Let’s be clear about what the privatisation of theMaitlandHospital means. Regardless of whether the operator is a big corporation or a religious not-for-profit entity, it will be running the hospital on the same type of contract. That contract will allow the new operator to extract a financial surplus – money for them that could and should be going into the provision of services.

We know from experience what happens under hospital privatisation: patient care suffers; cleaning happens less often; the standard of food slips; patients have to wait long periods for assistance because there aren’t enough staff to move them.

These arrangements don’t even deliver better value for money to the taxpayer. According to the Auditor-General, the 1992 privatisation of Port Macquarie Hospital resulted in the state “paying for the hospital twice and giving it away”. Costs were 20 per cent higher than those in the public sector, and risk was lumped with the government and NSW taxpayers.

While the NSW government’s argument for privatising hospitals has always been threadbare, it rested on the simple assumption the government should no longer be in the business of providing public health services.

Now, however, the claim that the state is too broke to run hospitals has been blown apart. The money has always been there – it’s just that Ms Berejiklian wants to spend it on something else, on a different set of priorities.First it was Parramatta stadium, knocked down and rebuilt.Now it will be Allianz Stadium – only 29 years old – knocked down and rebuilt.And the final insult: ANZ Stadium will be knocked down and rebuilt just 17 years after it hosted the Olympics.

Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s nothing better than a day at the footy.But even the most ardent sports fan can see the Premier’s $2.5 billion stadium program is one of the most obscene, disgraceful exercises in wasteful spending in the history of NSW. This is not an error of judgement, or a silly decision made in haste. The stadium program has been years in the making, and involves the highest-ranked people in government. And the privatisation of our assets is how they are paying for it.

I’m sure selling hospitals and rebuilding sports stadiums plays well for the Premier in the boardrooms of Sydney. The Premier will probably get an extra glass of champagne at the SCG Trust Christmas drinks this year. Maybe Ms Berejiklian needs to get out of the boardroom and see what life is like for the rest of us who don’t get a free ticket into the corporate suites for State of Origin.

Communities around the state have already rejected the NSW government’s hospital privatisation agenda. Bowral, Goulburn, Wyong and Shellharbour have already said “no” to privatisation.

It’s the Hunter’s turn to send Ms Berejiklian a clear message: your priorities are all wrong Premier, and it’s time to start putting people first.

Mark Morey is the secretary of Unions NSW