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the Minister with no clothes …

Dear Beagle Editor, We read with interest of the spot-light that is being brought to bear by you local Council on Andrew Constance. Member for Bega, in regards to the handling of the Batemans Bay swimming pool. With NSW State money aplenty from the sale of Poles and Wires and from the sale of the profitable Land Titles Registry that is earmarked for two new stadiums in Sydney the public awareness of "the management of the public purse" is attracting closer scrutiny and building opinion. With just over a year to go until the next NSW elections there comes a time fo more scrutiny to be paid to our State electorate issues as well. Your readers might be interested in our most recent media release; the Minister with no clothes …

It’s sometimes hard to know if Andrew Constance is really just nervous in public or if he adopts the persona of a simple “country yokel” to better play to his audience & minimise scrutiny; a bit like the former long-time Premier of Queensland, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, used to do.

Of course, the reality is that the Member for Bega & Minister Transport & Infrastructure is extremely unlikely to be either of those things, given that he is ranked 6th in the ministry of a government controlling the largest state economy in Australia.

Mr Constance has held his current portfolio for the better part of three years, having previously been Treasurer, Minister for Industrial Relations, Minister for Finance & Services & Minister for Ageing & Disability Services so, no matter which way you slice it, he’s no slouch in the world of politics.

So, how bizarre is it that such a senior minister can profess to know so little about a major issue confronting his electorate, unless, of course, he just finds it convenient to feign such ignorance?

Mr Constance spent just over four minutes on local ABC Radio last Friday week making a valiant effort to convince his host & the south east community that he is just as mystified by the events surrounding the destruction of Dr Chris Phoon’s career as an orthopaedic surgeon at the new South East Regional Hospital (SERH) as everyone-else.

Asked for his reaction to the announcement by the new CEO of the Southern NSW Local Health District (SNSWLHD), Andrew Newton, that an “amicable agreement” had been reached with Dr Phoon & that he would not be returning to work at the SERH, Mr Constance stated:

“Well, I don’t know what the resolution is. We’ve got a bureaucracy coming-out & saying that there’s been an amicable agreement reached. Obviously we’ve got to accept that.”

Really Andrew?

One of the most senior & powerful politicians in NSW pleads ignorance in the face of an already discredited bureaucracy & reckons we have to accept what they say? Pull the other one Andrew … even Joh wouldn’t have tried to get away with that one.

The Minister for “you know” (26 occasions in just over four minutes) then went on to say:

“And again, the community has been left somewhat bewildered & so am I …”

Well Andrew, many in the community remain bewildered by your apparent impotence in the face of a reckless & negligent bureaucracy that must obviously be in charge, given you & your colleagues aren’t.

When asked if he thought the outcome was satisfactory. Mr Constance went on to say that:

“Well look, the bureaucracy has indicated that there has been an amicable agreement. So I can only have some faith in that”.

Are you serious Andrew?

So, when asked about a public statement issued by a mid-level health bureaucrat about a major issue impacting his electorate, a senior Cabinet Minister claims that he has no alternative but to accept it”?

But then, suddenly Andrew remembered who he is supposed to be & boldly gave us this:

“From my perspective as a local member, I am beyond frustrated at the messages that come out, the advice that comes out. I think ultimately I, like the rest of the community, want full openness & transparency …”

(Audience bursts into laughter at this point …)

And then …

“I’m very sensitive to the fact that there’s got to be a process of natural justice for everybody involved”.

So Andrew, if you are really concerned about ensuring that natural justice is served, why not insist that full details of the decision-making process that led to the decision not to renew Dr Phoon’s contract are made public, along with confirmation of who made that decision & who was aware of it prior to Dr Phoon being informed.

And if your concern is really genuine Andrew, why can’t you or the Minister for Health publicly confirm or deny that the reason that Dr Phoon’s contract was not renewed had to do with his outspoken insistence that the rural contract status of the SERH be reinstated?

And why not release the terms of reference for the inquiry that was initiated by the former CEO of the SNSWLH into Dr Phoon & the orthopaedic service at SERH, given the matter has been settled?

And given the government’s willingness to hold an inquiry into the health of the SERH & the operation of its orthopaedic department, why not hold an inquiry into the performance of the SNSWLHD, its board & management & the entire rotten saga from beginning to end?

Let the light shine in Andrew!!

Demonstrate your government’s genuine commitment to openness & transparency Andrew or risk being seen as, you know, “the Minister with no clothes”.

John Richardson


Bega Valley Shire Residents & Ratepayers Association


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