Media Releases

Rebecca White MP | Labor Member for Lyons

  • Minister must start paying attention to workers at the coalface
  • Pleas for action to prevent beds crisis falling on Ferguson’s deaf ears
  • Minister had more than two years to plan and failed to put safety strategy in place
Ignorant Health Minister Michael Ferguson is disregarding the genuine concerns of frontline nursing staff at the Royal Hobart Hospital about a looming beds crisis so completely that they have launched their own campaign.
Shadow Health and Preventative Care Minister Rebecca White said it was shameful that the on-going debacle around Mr Ferguson’s hospital redevelopment had reached the point where nursing staff have had to take matters into their own hands.
“Michael Ferguson can see that staff are so distressed and so worried that they have launched their Wear Red To Save A Bed campaign,” Ms White said.
“Michael Ferguson can see that demand at the hospital is increasing at the same time beds are decreasing.
“This Minister can see that patients are waiting up to 40 hours in the Emergency Department to be assigned a bed.
“He knows that there will be a reduction of beds during a decant of patients later this month in preparation for the demolition of B Block, pushing nursing staff to breaking point.
“But he still refuses to listen and he still refuses to admit that he has got it so badly wrong.
“What’s so startling about this alarming situation is that Mr Ferguson has had more than two years to plan for the decant of patients and the demolition of hospital wards.
“But there has been no planning for safe patient care and there has been no strategy around how to cope with a reduction in hospital beds.
“He simply cannot be allowed to continue to ignore the frontline which is pleading with him for a solution.
“He cannot be allowed to continue to tell the Tasmanian community that he knows best when the crisis is clear to everyone who works at the hospital and everyone who depends on it for medical care.
“The genuine concerns of nursing staff and the fact they have had to go to the length of launching a campaign so they can finally be heard should be more than enough to make Mr Ferguson finally listen and should be ringing loud alarm bells for the Premier and his government.”
  • Both Health and Workplace Safety Ministers dodge questions on asbestos exposure
  • Hospital staff and construction workers must be subject to appropriate protocols
  • Ferguson refuses to say if hospital staff in dust scares have received correct advice

Mystery surrounds the Hodgman Liberal Government’s treatment of Royal Hobart Hospital health staff and construction workers in the fallout of potential exposure to asbestos – specifically whether protocols have been followed in referring them to the National Asbestos Register.

Shadow Health and Preventative Care Minister Rebecca White said both the Health Minister Michael Ferguson and Building and Construction Minister Guy Barnett had today dodged questions in State Parliament about appropriate protocols for staff potentially exposed to the dangerous fibres in a series of mishaps at the RHH redevelopment.

“We know there have been three separate incidents in the past month – one of them involving 40 administration and clinical staff – but what we don’t know is what the government and Mr Ferguson are doing to look after the staff in their care,” Ms White said.

“In all circumstances when people are potentially exposed to asbestos, they should be automatically referred to the National Asbestos Register which is designed to keep records of Australians in the event of future illnesses.

“Yet today when directly asked if health staff at the hospital involved in exposure incidents had been referred to the Register, Mr Ferguson could not – or would not – answer.

“Similarly, when asked directly if construction workers of the joint venture partner on the project had been referred to the Register, Mr Barnett could not – or would not – answer.

“If these staff have not been referred, that’s a disgraceful breach of the trust placed in Mr Ferguson to protect and care for health workers.

“We believe, having spoken to a number of staff involved, that they have not been placed on the register.

“We know that the first incidences of construction workers exposed to asbestos occurred in August last year and there have been at least five more since and if Mr Barnett is unaware of that it’s equally disgraceful.”

Ms White urged any worker who believed they had been exposed to asbestos to make enquiries with the National Asbestos Register at:

  • 112 workers at Longford abattoir temporarily stood down
  • Liberal Government must provide support to workers and their families

Shadow Primary Industries Minister Rebecca White has called on the Liberal Government to support workers at JBS at Longford.

112 workers at the abattoir will be stood down as the business deals with a nationwide livestock shortage.

“This is a devastating blow for the workers and their families,” Ms White said.

“Even the temporary loss of employment puts enormous pressure on someone. I hope the abattoir can return to full production as soon as possible.

“The State Government must do everything it can to support workers and their families through this uncertain period.

“The opposition has been in contact with both the company and the union to offer our support.

“I thank JBS for its willingness to engage and keep the lines of communication open. It’s so important that workers have a clear picture of the situation.

“The previous state government worked closely with agencies like Centrelink to help workers and their families through similar situations to this.

“The Liberal Government must be proactive and compassionate.” 

  • Third incident in two weeks shows on-going situation requires audit on safeguards
  • Ferguson still missing in action on adequate explanation for Tasmanians

Yet another incident involving potential exposure to asbestos at the Royal Hobart Hospital shows Health Minister Michael Ferguson has failed to implement adequate safeguards to protect patients and staff.

Shadow Health and Preventative Care Minister Rebecca White said the third incident in a fortnight involving potential exposure to asbestos should be a wake-up call to the Minister and the government that a thorough audit needed to be carried out around the much-delayed redevelopment and across the hospital.

“Now that we have witnessed the third incident – this time when dust fell on an intensive care patient – it’s time for Mr Ferguson to get hands-on and at least attempt to get to the bottom of the situation at the hospital,” Ms White said.

“It’s not good enough that there do not appear to be appropriate and uniform controls in place regarding safe work practices to protect patients and staff.

“It’s not good enough that Michael Ferguson has consistently left it up to bureaucrats and departmental staff to explain the situation when as Health Minister, he should be stepping up to take responsibility and explain to Tasmanians what is happening at their hospital.

“Without offering any assurance Tasmanians are right to believe Mr Ferguson is hiding away from what is a very worrying on-going situation and they want answers.

“Nobody wants to see patients and staff exposed to asbestos and it’s a huge relief that preliminary testing in this latest incident has shown asbestos was not present in air samples.

“But Mr Ferguson owes patients and staff and all Tasmanians a satisfactory explanation around the entire situation.”

  • Community concerns too important for government to ignore
  • Critical questions remain around cloud seeding operation on eve of floods

Shadow Primary Industries Minister Rebecca White has urged the Government to listen to the growing calls for an independent inquiry into cloud seeding.

“The community concern is too big for the Liberal Government to ignore,” Ms White said.

“Farmers want a fresh, independent assessment of why Hydro was cloud seeding on the eve of major flooding events across the state and whether it had an impact.

“The call is backed by a large number of community leaders and the Premier and Energy Minister should be listening.

“Hydro’s internal report into its activity has not satisfied the Tasmanian community.

“Hydro itself recognises the need for a more detailed review.

“The new Federal Members for Braddonand Lyons, Justine Keay and Brian Mitchell, have shown leadership in calling for an independent inquiry and they have the strong backing of state Labor.

“Will Hodgman and Matthew Groom should immediately establish an independent investigation.” 

  • Health Minister tries sneaky tactic yet again on hospital safety
  • Ferguson must provide honest safety assessment for staff and patients

Cagey Health Minister Michael Ferguson waited until he had been questioned over the latest asbestos scare at the Royal Hobart Hospital before he came clean with Tasmanians.

Shadow Minister for Health and Preventative Care Rebecca White said while the latest asbestos scare was flagged in D Block at the hospital on Wednesday, Mr Ferguson waited until he was questioned by the media on Thursday afternoon before he elected to make the alarming find public.

“Yet again we see this highly secretive, sneaky and underhanded Minister attempt to keep a worrying and potentially dangerous situation from the Tasmanian public,” Ms White said.

“Yet again we see Mr Ferguson attempt to keep staff and patients in the dark when he should be doing everything he can to assure them around the situation.

“Why did it take enquiries from the media before he elected to make a public announcement?

“It’s the staff and the patients and the general public who will be concerned about their potential exposure to asbestos and it’s those same people who expect and deserve this Minister to be honest with them – they don’t expect him to play silly and secretive games.

“This latest scare is very concerning - just as last week’s find was – and what’s just as concerning is that in both instances Mr Ferguson had ample opportunity to keep Tasmanians informed and on both occasions he failed dismally.

“Under his watch, the Royal Hobart Hospital redevelopment has become a disaster zone but rather than hide and hope nobody will find out when incidents occur, Mr Ferguson has an obligation as the Minister in charge of Tasmania’s health system to be upfront.

“My genuine concern is for the staff and patients and I trust that Mr Ferguson has directed his department to provide them with timely and fulsome information.

“There’s no excuse for his continued behaviour to keep them in the dark.”

  • Health Minister copies Labor’s obesity plan a year later
  • Government is missing in action on preventative health

The Hodgman Liberal Government and Health Minister Michael Ferguson have no credibility in the critical preventative health area, releasing a copycat obesity program containing measures they trashed and belittled a year ago.

Shadow Health and Preventative Care Minister Rebecca White said when Labor took the first step in proposing a ban on sugary drinks in school canteens in line with the recommendations of Diabetes Tasmania a year ago, Mr Ferguson had labelled the plan “nanny statism”.

In May last year after the release of Labor’s Rethink Sugary Drink policy, Mr Ferguson said:

“Everyone wants to see a healthier Tasmania, however Labor’s lazy thought-bubble of prohibition and regulation would see Tasmania become a nanny state where, according to their own release, we’d all be drinking nothing but water.” (Michael Ferguson, The Mercury, May 18 2015)

“Now Mr Ferguson has seen the light and hypocritically re-announced Labor’s policy, even after he said our measures were nothing more than nanny-statism,” Ms White said.

“He has done nothing more than take the plan that Diabetes Tasmania, the Cancer Council, and the Heart Foundation called for and which Labor adopted and try to call it his own.

“For more than two years now, Mr Ferguson has been fumbling around preventative health with nothing to offer.

“Incredibly, the Liberal’s school canteens proposal will also not be introduced until next year meaning Mr Ferguson will have done nothing in this very important area for the majority of the Hodgman Government’s term in government.

“That poor record stands in stark contrast to Labor which has already released a clear and comprehensive policy addressing preventative health to ensure we have the healthiest population and relieve the future burden on our hospital system.

“In addition to the removal of sugary drinks from school canteens, Labor’s preventative health policy includes proper regulating of electronic cigarettes so they cannot be sold to children, building two new Child and Family Centres, establishing a 12 month Active Kids – Active Communities pilot programand aiming to have a 100 per cent vaccination rate for Tasmanian children.”

  • Roof collapse causes asbestos incident at Royal Hobart Hospital
  • 40 staff relocated for safety reasons
  • Ferguson had numerous opportunities to inform public

News that 40 staff at the Royal Hobart Hospital have been relocated due to asbestos exposure is very concerning indeed.

Shadow Health Minister Rebecca White said Michael Ferguson had serious questions to answer.

“Why is the public finding out about something that happened on Wednesday late on a Friday afternoon?,” Ms White said.

“The Health Minister spoke to the media on Wednesday and Thursday specifically about health related concerns of staff at the hospital, why did he neglect to inform the public of the asbestos incident?

“We know too well the dangers of exposure to asbestos so the health department is right to take this incident very seriously.

“There is no such thing as a safe level of exposure to asbestos. 

“My thoughts are with the staff who have no doubt had a stressful couple of days at the Royal as well as the construction workers on the site. 

“Michael Ferguson must explain why he kept the public in the dark for two days.

“Did he deliberately withhold the information during his press conference on Thursday to avoid bad news?

“Under his leadership the Royal redevelopment has become a disaster zone."

  • Huge delays for hospital redevelopment
  • Document does not refute that workers became sick
  • Minister should get on with the job instead of grandstanding

The document handed to government regarding mould at the Royal Hobart Hospital does little to reassure Tasmanians that the demountable building is fit to house patients. 

Shadow Minister for Health and Preventative Care, Rebecca White, said it is little wonder the health minister did not make the so-called report public yesterday. 

“The four page document that took three months to prepare confirms there are serious and ongoing health risks related to mould exposure at the hospital,” Ms White said.

“It does not refute the fact that workers on site became sick, only that those symptoms could not be exclusively attributed to mould. 

“The document confirms that exposure to mould is a risk for people who suffer from asthma and allergies.

“This completely vindicates Labor’s decision to raise the matter in parliament on behalf of workers and the unions who represent them.

“It is clear the building is unfit to house patients but if the Minister had his way this sorry saga would never have been brought to light. 

“The WorkSafe document also confirms that remedial work on the temporary building will continue throughout September. That is entirely consistent with our understanding that the building will be more than 10 months overdue - throwing out the timeline for the entire redevelopment. 

“Michael Ferguson’s grandstanding over the last two days has demonstrated he’s more interested in petty politics than good outcomes in health.” 

  • Health Minister sneaks out backflip on key preventative health policy
  • Ferguson has nothing to offer in important preventative health area

Health Minister Michael Ferguson’s  last minute backdown on his only preventative health policy late today is proof the Hodgman Government has nothing to offer to safeguard the health of future generations of Tasmanians.

Shadow Health Minister Rebecca White said Mr Ferguson had late today attempted to sneak out his backdown on his commitment to raise the legal smoking age to 21 or 25, hoping nobody would notice.

“Mr Ferguson has abandoned any attempt to introduce meaningful measures to help ensure our future generation are healthy,” Ms White said.

“Mr Ferguson is responsible for nothing more than bungle after bungle after bungle. He has thrown our major hospitals into crisis and now has shown Tasmanians he is clueless in regard to taking action on preventative health.

“A commitment to action on preventative health is critical to not only improve health outcomes but in decreasing the burden on our hospitals.

“In contrast, just yesterday Labor announced a dedicated portfolio for preventative health care.”

Labor has also announced a range of policies to improve health outcomes for Tasmanians including increasing vaccination rates in children, removing sugary drinks from school canteens, regulating electronic cigarettes, compulsory social and emotional learning in public schools and many other positive initiatives. 

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