MPs set to debate Byron hospital privatisation plan

Ewingsdale developer Leigh Belbeck addressing a beef forum in 2010. She told Byron Shire Council last week not to delay her DA, as residents had urged. Photo: The Land

Ewingsdale developer Leigh Belbeck addressing a beef forum in 2010. She told Byron Shire Council last week not to delay her DA, as residents had urged. Image: Youtube

Luis Feliu

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.

The proposed sites of the Byron Central Hospital (marked on the left) and 'seniors' development (box on the right) for 166 houses, nursing home and shopping centre.

The proposed sites for the ‘seniors’ development for 166 houses, nursing home and shopping centre, marked in blue. The proposed Byron Central Hospital is in between them.

‘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.

Bindaree Beef founder JR McDonald. Photo The Land.

Bindaree Beef founder JR McDonald. Photo The Land.

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’.



4 responses to “MPs set to debate Byron hospital privatisation plan”

  1. The question is, if the Liberal National Party Government is to privatise hospitals, schools, roads , public transport & electricity, will we see a big reduction in taxation? If not we may well ask what we are paying taxes for.Perhaps those who say we could discard a level of government are right, but which level is least corrupt? It is up to all residents to join their local residents action groups and let politicians know what they want. If they would also like to participate through those groups in Voterland’s national Residents Roundtables, that would also help them with leverage to get their democracy delivering the sort of services that can make a positive difference to the lives of many community members. This is not the only hospital being privatised and private healthcare will always put profits before patients. But patients and potential patients can establish very effective systems to monitor and publicise in parliament the performance of any hospital. Contact FairGO for details.

  2. R Hall says:

    Long long ago, over twenty years ago, the last time NSW voters were stupid enough to elect an anti social economic illiterate LNP Govt in NSW, the LNP privatised a hospital resulting in abbbottsolute financial disaster, you would think they would have learned not to repeat their failed cut snake crazy right wing economic rhetoric, but unfortunately the LNP have no respect for tax payers money and cannot help themselves, while they and their billionaire donors ride the gravy train that is the LNP in Govt.

  3. silversister says:

    Privitising health facilties anywhere is unwise, results in inequitable service and provides a cash flow for the already well-resourced private health sector. In regional and rural areas it is a recipe for disaster. Community members should fight against this. Remember the Port Macquarie disaster. Lives are too precious to be gambled for the sake of the private sector’s grabbing essential services.

  4. BOYD KELLNER says:

    You only have see what happening in Sydneys Frenchs Forest and the proposed new hospital. The Nurses Union are running a strong campaign against this proposed privatised hospital.
    The new Byron hospital will probably be a PPP [ private , public partnership] of some description. This government is ideologically obessessed with privatising all public services, infrastructure.
    Under liberal/ national Greiner government in the early 1990s, the failed Pt Macquarie privatised hospital should serve as a stark reminder where this government is taking us.
    People need to fully scrutinise what is going on, and planned.

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