Credit where it’s due, but surely our government has more than one competent Minister?

Even when it demonstrably gets something right, the Palaszczuk Government seems unable to avoid messing it up, writes Madonna King

Nov 23, 2023, updated Nov 23, 2023
New Health Minister Shannon Fentiman (AAP Image/Darren England)

New Health Minister Shannon Fentiman (AAP Image/Darren England)

Often the headline hides the real story, and that’s the case with Queensland’s first ever ministerial directive, ensuring alleged sex assault victims are seen within 10 minutes of arriving at a hospital.

That decision, by the State’s health minister, should be applauded – except that it throws up an unfair anomaly that goes to the heart of good government.

Around the same time Shannon Fentiman’s directive was being reported, to significant fanfare, a father and grandfather, who was suffering heart pain, lay dying.

But it was the circumstances around his death that makes this such a heartbreaking and important story.

Wayne Irving died, after waiting hours in the back of an ambulance parked on a ramp outside an emergency unit of a big hospital, full of life-saving equipment and medicos.

And that, from whatever way you look at it, is unforgivable.

Shouldn’t we be seeing a person, with heart pain, at the front door of our hospitals within 10 minutes?

In Irving’s case, the wait was allegedly three hours. Where is the ministerial directive there? And why did the Government decide to issue one in relation to sex assaults and not heart attacks?

What about those other patients, lying in the back of ambulance vans, just waiting for the green light to be seen by a medico?

In one year – ambulances spent a total of 134,155 hours ramped outside the same 26 hospitals, now bound by Fentiman’s directive.

134 155 hours. That’s 8,049,300 minutes, when even a couple can be the difference between life and death with heart pain.

So let’s celebrate the ministerial directive, but that should not mute the absolutely reprehensible situation, where people appear to be dying outside emergency departments.

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Fentiman’s ministerial directive was the first in Queensland. It shouldn’t be the last – and Fentiman should be penning a few quick ones to follow. Her Cabinet colleagues should have their own too.

Here’s a few ministerial directives that might be worth considering around the Cabinet table next Monday. And let’s start with the Health Minister who could issue orders that:

  • patients presenting with the symptoms of a heart attack be seen within 10 minutes at the State’s 26 reporting hospitals;
  • urgent cases, as declared by paramedics sitting in ambulance vans outside emergency centres, be seen urgently. That’s why they are at the hospital;
  • computer systems in public hospitals not crash, when that will send the health system into disarray. We saw what happened to the Optus CEO in the wake of the telco meltdown; we should expect, in a first world health system, that computers work;
  • While those ministerial directives should keep the Health Minister busy, her colleagues should be penning their own. Here’s a few:
  • Mark Bailey, as Transport Minister, should make history, by issuing a directive to himself, outlining the need to understand maths. Central to that is the need to understand the value of billions of dollars;
  • Bailey’s second ministerial directive should be a reminder that this money belongs to taxpayers, not him, and he has a duty to explain billion-dollar blowouts;
  • The inaugural use of a ministerial directive also hints at them being used in the lead-up to next year’s election. So it’s important the premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, gets in early and issues her own. That will neutralise the candidacy of the Health Minister, but also perhaps lead to better government.
  • The premier could start with the Olympic Games, and this crucial directive:
  • that an independent body now be appointed to prioritise infrastructure for the Games, with real business cases attached to them. The first of these should be the Gabba.
  • More widely, the Premier should be issued with a directive ensuring she tells her Treasurer and others governing the State when she is taking a few weeks off, and heading overseas on holidays. This simply allows those we – the voters – employ to run the state are kept in the loop.
  • Housing Minister Meaghan Scanlon should issue a directive to her department that any housing initiatives not run counter to other policies, so that they cancel each other out.

The decision to double the First Home Owner Grant by itself might be seen as good news for young voters, heading to the polls for the first time next October. But just listen to the economists, and how they see it will make the housing market even more expensive at a time when homelessness is at record levels.

Actually, what about that for a ministerial directive?

  • That relevant ministers of the Palaszczuk Government ensure all the state’s homeless are able to access a roof over their head, within a week of losing their accommodation.
  • And here’s one for the police minister:
  • Let’s give that police will be told to head to violent home break-ins ahead of attending Parliament to chase down a small group of grandparents wanting a greener future.

The list could go on. But the point is the same.

All alleged sex victims should be seen at a public hospital within 10 minutes. That’s good news. But it doesn’t mute the other massive failures that are deserving of the same attention.

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