The NSW Parliament is today set to debate controversial government plans to privatise the proposed Byron Central Hospital after a move by the Labor opposition yesterday to force the coalition to release all documents related to the development.
It comes as a residents group revealed the Ewingsdale landowner of the surrounding land where plans are being pushed through for almost 200 dwellings, a nursing home and shopping centre is the daughter of one of Australia’s richest beef barons who has been buying up prime farmland nearby.
Byron Shire Council last week narrowly approved pushing the so-called ‘seniors’ development through to its development application (DA) stage, outraging local resident groups who say it should have been deferred for more time to consider the contentious plan which contravened the shire’s new Local Environment Plan (LEP).
But comments by Ballina MP Don Page, following the council decision, that he wanted the private sector to provide surgical services at the hospital has sparked the move in parliament to try and throw light on the hospital plans and the push for privately-run services.
Labor’s shadow health minister Walt Secord says his call for papers, known as a Standing Order 52, in the NSW Legislative Council yesterday will be debated this week.
‘It’s an extraordinary step, but this is about finding out the National Party plans for Byron Central Hospital’, Mr Secord told Echonetdaily.
He said Mr Page’s comments to the ABC in favour of a privately-run service followed an announcement by state health minister Jillian Skinner last month that the central hospital’s project team was ‘undertaking a market sounding process to determine whether there is interest from private providers to deliver surgical services at the facility’.
‘The community is worried about the National Party plans for Byron Hospital: the Nationals on the north coast have a poor record on health services,’ Mr Secord said.
‘They introduce paid parking, slash cleaning and maintenance jobs, close services and privatise health on the north coast,’ he said.
‘The Nationals also created the disastrous model of the private Port Macquarie Hospital which had to be purchased by the state government.
‘Furthermore, in the first week, the premier Mike Baird said he wanted to see privatisation of hospital services,’ Mr Secord said.
The MLC’s motion calls for the tabling of documents created since 1 April 2011 (soon after the coalition was elected to government) within 14 days, including ministerial briefing notes, email correspondence, financial documents, memos, file notes, meeting papers and meeting minutes relating to the proposed new hospital.
Many of the documents sought relate to how the government proposed to run a public-private partnership and provide such services at the hospital.
Byron shire mayor Simon Richardson told media this morning there were serious concerns about the development, including sewerage, traffic impacts, access, parking and noise, which would be detailed in council’s submission to the government, which is the consent authority for the proposal.
Cr Richardson told ABC that any other developer would be sent back to the drawing board to address the issues.
Meanwhile, the Byron Residents Group (BRG) have slammed council’s pro-development National Party-aligned majority (Crs Sol Ibrahim, Di Woods, Alan Hunter, Chris Cubis and Greens defector Rose Wanchap) for ‘hijacking’ local planning rules to push the development ahead.
BRG president Cate Coorey said that ‘back in 2011 the previous council decided that the Ewingsdale proposal should be included in the Growth Management Strategy which would have given the
community their right to decide if such development was needed or appropriate for this site’.
‘Last year, with no community consultation, council unanimously decided to sideline the
community by referring the proposal to the minister for planning for a “Gateway Determination”,’ Ms Coorey said.
‘There is no reason for this to be determined by the state government. Proper care for our aged should be better planned than this. A 28-day response time to the proposal, which was already as good as approved by the state government is unconscionable.’
The developer, Leigh Belbeck, whose company owns the Ewingsdale land and lodged the DA for the ‘seniors’ development, is the daughter of J R McDonald, the founder of Bindaree Beef which runs one of the state’s biggest abattoirs, and who was described last month in a glowing feature article by a local weekly newspaper as a beef ‘legend’.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported in February this year on a bitter dispute at the company’s Inverell abattoir over what amounted to a $2 a week pay rise sought by meatworkers, with JR McDonald threatening to close the plant down if the 800 workers there went on strike.
Two years ago Mrs Belbeck, her husband John and son Dane, parted with the family-run beef business they had worked at for most of their lives, with media saying the departures ‘signalled unrest’ at the company.
Mrs Belbeck addressed councillors last Thursday, arguing that against residents’ wishes to defer the plan and defending the company’s (Belbeck Investments) consultation with residents.
Echonetdaily has also been told that her father has been approaching longstanding local farmers around Ewingsdale who own prime farmland near the two sites to try to buy up the land.
One of them has refused to sell up, despite being told that ‘everyone has a price’.