SCOTT LEVI, HOST: And the Federal Member for Dobell, Emma McBride, joins us on the line. Good morning.
EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: Good morning, Scott. Good to be with you.
LEVI: Yes, good to talk to you, too, because there's so much to get through. The private hospital operator Healthe Care joined us on the programme and revealed several of its regional facilities are struggling financially after it announced the brand new $23 million Tuggerah Lakes Private Hospital at Kanwal will close at the end of next month. What does this mean for the public hospital system?
MCBRIDE: Well, I spoke to the CEO of Healthe Care, the operator of Tuggerah Lakes Private Hospital last week to raise both job security of the staff and also access to services for local people. And the CEO said to me that they were working with staff for them to be employed at their other private hospitals on the coast. Brisbane Waters and Gosford Private and maintain that care would be continued to be offered through these, private hospitals. And I think it's important to note that I mean the Government is concerned about the financial viability of private hospitals, particularly those in regional areas where they do play an important role in the local community in providing care and quality jobs. However, we have to be clear about the role of the federal government in providing support for private hospitals. Private hospitals are private businesses that make commercial decisions about what services to offer and whether to remain open, or not.
LEVI: Will it put pressure on Wyong Hospital, though?
MCBRIDE: I worked at Wyong Hospital, as you know, for nearly ten years, and we've worked very hard to keep Wyong Hospital in public hands because when the hospital is in public hands, then the community has a say.
LEVI: Does this vindicate that decision? Because the community fought very hard against that, didn't they, when the state government were proposing that $200 million facility be privatised.
MCBRIDE: I think it does. It shows that the community who were strong advocates to keep our community hospital in public hands did the right thing because it means that we have seen an expansion of Wyong Hospital, we've seen more investment there and also the public and the state government and the federal government have an ongoing say in what services are offered there and how people can access them. So, yes, I think it shows the importance of, you know, maintaining Wyong Hospital in public and community hands.
LEVI: Callers yesterday saying they need, you know, children's ward, they need a maternity ward, that this facility possibly could fill that role. It's purpose built. It's a brand new hospital. It's got everything you need. It's just bump in and away you go. I mean, are we thinking that way?
MCBRIDE: In my preliminary conversation with the CEO of Healthe Care, he said to me that they were considering the repurposing of the facility. And as you've said, it is a brand new facility that was purpose built. That is a commercial decision and one that they are having, you know, conversations about. But I think the community would like to see that facility repurposed for other health services, particularly for people living on the north end of the Central Coast.
LEVI: Because the growth rate is incredible. As you know, the stretch, the stress on Wyong Hospital is so great that surely here's a bargain to be had to extend those services at the public hospital.
MCBRIDE: And this will be a decision. As I said, the private hospitals are private businesses that make commercial decisions and it will be a decision for them. But the community, I'm sure, would welcome the private hospital or another private provider continuing to provide care through there.
LEVI: Right next door to the public hospital to you know, the location is perfect, isn't it, if it does extend the Wyong Hospital. We've got the Acting Prime Minister, Richard Marles in town today. What's the purpose of that visit?
MCBRIDE: So the Acting Prime Minister will be doing two visits on the Central Coast today. He'll be in Robertson with Dr Gordon Reid to visit an urgent care clinic. And as your listeners would be aware, urgent care clinics were an election commitment that we made to give people and their families more options to see a doctor or nurse when you need care that's urgent but not life threatening. And also to take pressure off our already stretched emergency departments at both Gosford and Wyong Hospitals. The Acting Prime Minister will be with Dr Gordon Reid visiting an urgent care clinic. And we're rolling out 58 across Australia and close to 14 in New South Wales and two on the Central Coast, one in Umina and one in Lakehaven, which will be up and running by the end of the year. So providing local people with access without an appointment with just their Medicare card to care. And so Richard will be with Gordon in Umina. And then also talking about TAFE and our Fee-Free TAFE. Already federally, there's been 250,000 Fee-Free TAFE enrolments in 2023. And in New South Wales the most in-demand courses have been accounting and bookkeeping, early childhood education and care and a certificate in business. So when we've got a skills gap, we know on the Central Coast, talking to the local New South Wales business, New South Wales central coast, there's still 2000 job vacancies on the Central coast and a real skills gap. And what these Fee-Free TAFE places will mean that the people, local people will be able to get the skills they need and businesses will be able to employ local people with the expertise they need to fill those local jobs and boost our economy.
LEVI: We're speaking with Emma McBride, the Member for Dobell. And that's in your electorate that Ourimbah campus and the TAFE it's an absolute jewel in the crown, but very concerning what's happening there. The discipline of sports science and exercise and sports science being taken away, lock, stock and barrel to Newcastle simply to give them something good and take something away from us. According to everyone we've spoken to, it's a diabolical decision to enhance the Callaghan campus and rob the Ourimbah campus. Your colleague there, David Meehan, said. We just need to come out from under the yoke now. We need autonomy. This is just the straw that broke the camel's back. Are you concerned about them stripping our campus to bolster theirs?
MCBRIDE: We want to make sure that local people have the best opportunity to get the skills and training they need, including tertiary qualifications. And as you point out, Ourimbah campus over 30 years has provided that for many local students, including students who otherwise hadn't had the chance to successfully complete school or didn't have a pathway to tertiary qualifications through Open Foundation. So I've been in conversation as have my state counterparts with the University of Newcastle.
LEVI: Did it shock and upset you? I mean, they're saying they're doing it to strengthen partnerships with Newcastle based sporting teams like the Jets, the Knights and the Hunter Wildfires. What about the Mariners? What about Andrew Clarke, the best sports scientist in world football at the moment? The people, you know, local people who were graduates there who now have to go to Newcastle, all the reasons for taking it were purely to enhance Callaghan, which robs Ourimbah.
MCBRIDE: Our local community deserves the best in post-school education, whether that's TAFE, university or community college. And as you point out Ourimbah is really a shining example where you have the university co-located with TAFE and with a community college. And really this goes back to this landmark National Skills Agreement which the Prime Minister was able to secure last week, where we've made a commitment over five years to work very closely with the states and territories to make sure that there is a level of cooperation.
LEVI: But do we need autonomy? I mean, this is a simple question because this is a very upsetting decision for many people out there. The academics say that the place is being gutted and, you know, great things like this taken to Newcastle. Do we need to do what Newcastle did and got out from under the yoke of New South Wales University and go our own way? As David Mehan has said, 340,000 people, Canberra got 2 or 3 universities to service that many.
MCBRIDE: What we're working towards and this is in conversations with the University of Newcastle and with TAFE New South Wales, is to make sure that we have the very best offerings for local people that is close to home.
LEVI: We know that well this was the very best and it was taken.
MCBRIDE: And this is why I, as the local Federal Member, I have raised this with the Education Minister, Jason Clare. I've written to him. I have had several meetings with him about this. I've met with the Vice Chancellor and you know, the Dean of the of Ourimbah campus. I am working very determinedly to make sure that we can maintain strong post-school education options for local people. It's what they deserve and what I'll continue to push for to make sure that we get the very best locally.
LEVI: All right, Emma McBride, thanks for joining us.
MCBRIDE: Good to be with you.