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Rebecca White MP | Labor Member for Lyons

WHAT should have been a straightforward building project, pivotal to redevelopment of the Royal Hobart Hospital, has been in chaos for more than six months.

It is worrying and upsetting to Tasmanians that their major capital city hospital should be at the centre of a chain of haphazard and avoidable bungles.

Also worrying is that the Hodgman Government and Health Minister Michael Ferguson seem determined that none of us will understand the true extent of what is going on.

Mr Ferguson and the Government’s appalling secrecy surrounding the debacle in constructing a temporary demountable building at the RHH forecourt is astounding.

Tasmanians want to know what is happening at the Royal and how we reached a point where the Government has so badly botched a temporary demountable building costing $22 million. There are serious questions about the ability of the Government and the Minister to deliver on the bigger picture — the actual $659 million hospital redevelopment.

Dangerous mould infestations have been discovered on the site. Workers have been sent home because the site is unsafe.

The contracted builder has had to pull sections of the temporary building apart, demolishing entire floors and put it back together again.

Sections of roofing have needed to be replaced, along with external cladding.

Timelines around this redevelopment appear hopelessly blown.

Serious questions remain unanswered and, in asking them, I am determined to get Tasmanians answers.

In failing — and in some cases flatly refusing — to answer fulsomely, Mr Ferguson has done little more than level accusations that such questions are “desperately negative”.

With his wall of silence and habitual avoidance, Mr Ferguson is doing Tasmanians a disservice and placing his already thin credibility as an effective minister at stake.

Is it the case that he does not understand the full extent of the issues at the Royal site or is he merely determined to avoid the issue? 

A temporary demountable building was announced about 18 months ago as a solution to housing patients and staff while demolition and reconstruction took place on other sections of the hospital, including B Block.

Since that time Mr Ferguson has moved the goalposts on the costs associated with the construction of the temporary building along with the timelines for construction.

In early 2015, Mr Ferguson claimed the temporary facility would cost $18 million and would be installed by the end of the year so services would be able to relocate by January 2016. When the Government subsequently sought tenders, the costs had blown out to $22 million. By January this year work had only just begun and the Health Minister was deliberately vague on an end date for construction.

At the same time it was revealed the Hodgman Government had chosen a Victorian firm over a Launceston company to provide the building materials and, adding insult to injury, hired travelling backpackers over local tradespeople to pull the building modules together at a Macquarrie Point site.

The Health Minister claimed he had gone with interstate parts and an itinerant workforce because of tight time frames when in truth he had achieved very little toward this construction in the almost-two-years he had been in charge.

In mid-March disaster struck. Dangerous and widespread infestations of mould were discovered throughout the building modules once they had been installed at the hospital’s Liverpool St site, necessitating a halt to work while the temporary building was investigated and cleaned.

At the same time, the roof placed on the structure needed to be removed and replaced.

The following month, claims were raised that an illness cluster had been identified among workers following exposure to mould. We are still waiting for the findings of an investigation by Worksafe Tasmania.

In May, Mr Ferguson brushed aside concerns about the appearance of cracks in the ceiling and walls of the RHH Emergency Department which sits under the temporary building as “scare-mongering”.

In June, under questioning in Budget Estimates, Mr Ferguson could not say, or refused to divulge, when the building would be completed. He consistently fell back on the line: “When it’s safe.”

And in early July, the same time patients and staff should well and truly have moved into the temporary building, we learned that the date for the demountable’s completion had been pushed back to as late as October, a report Mr Ferguson did not deny.

According to the Government’s original schedule, the redevelopment of the hospital is due for completion by December, 2018. But that schedule is contingent on demolition works starting now — in July — and taking place over three months, followed by 11 months for the construction of foundations for the lower levels of K-1 Block and another 16 months for the completion of K-1 and K-2.

The Government’s time frame for the temporary building has blown out by at least nine months, and factoring in another 30 months for demolition and reconstruction, Mr Ferguson’s intended December 2018 completion date appears unachievable.

If much of this sorry chain of events is news to you, it is because Mr Ferguson has failed to keep us all informed.

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Rebecca White

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