Call for inquiry into new Women’s and Children’s Hospital decision

Lord Mayoral candidate Rex Patrick has called for a parliamentary inquiry into the Malinauskas Government’s decision to relocate the new $3 billion Women’s and Children’s Hospital to the historic Thebarton barracks.

Oct 10, 2022, updated Oct 10, 2022
Render of the proposed new Women's and Children's Hospital, on the site of the current Thebarton Police Barracks adjacent to Bonython Park. Image supplied by State Govt.

Render of the proposed new Women's and Children's Hospital, on the site of the current Thebarton Police Barracks adjacent to Bonython Park. Image supplied by State Govt.

Patrick, who is running for Adelaide Lord Mayor against incumbent Sandy Verschoor and former Labor minister Jane Lomax-Smith, said the state government’s decision to relocate the new WCH build “involves a bid to bulldoze through South Australia’s heritage protection law and any pretence of coherent planning for the City of Adelaide”.

“[Premier Peter Malinauskas’] claim that only a minority of people care about Adelaide’s heritage and parklands is highly disingenuous; not least that it conveniently ignores the parliamentary majorities that legislated to protect the Park Lands and heritage sites,” Patrick said in a media release this morning.

“We can have a new hospital, and parks and heritage buildings. It can be done, just not with the Premier’s ‘plan’.”

The Malinauskas Government announced last month its decision to relocate the build location of the new Women’s and Children’s Hospital from the railyards site immediately west of the Royal Adelaide Hospital to the state heritage-listed Thebarton police barracks adjacent to Bonython Park.

The plan, which adds an additional 56 overnight beds to the proposed hospital, will require the demolition of 10 police buildings on the state heritage site, prompting a backlash from heritage advocates.

The state government wants to introduce special legislation before the end of this year to allow it to fast-track the planning process. SA-Best appears likely to support the legislation, which would give the government the numbers to pass a Bill in the Upper House.

But Patrick said the parliament should examine “all alternative locations” in the interim.

“Given the fact that the Government will have to introduce special legislation this year to rort the normal legislated planning process, the State Parliament is duty bound to subject the new WCH project and its proposed siting to the most rigorous scrutiny, including examination of all alternative locations,” he said.

“That would be best achieved through a Legislative Council select committee inquiry. Such an inquiry should deal with much more than the technical provisions of the government’s legislation.

“It should put the detail of the government’s proposals under the microscope, especially with regard to the massive cost of the project, delay in implementation, health delivery, city planning and both Park Lands and heritage issues.”

Health Minister Chris Picton said the new WCH project would be subject to oversight from parliament’s Public Works Committee.

“The Government will introduce legislation this year for construction of the new Women’s and Children’s Hospital on the Thebarton Barracks site which will be subject to debate and vote in Parliament,” he said in a statement.

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“In addition, multiple stages of the project will also face oversight from the Public Works Committee of Parliament, as is the case for all major capital works.

“The new, larger site will include 70 more beds than the previous plans, connect intensive care services and operating theatres based on the advice of clinicians – and provide future expansion capacity for both the RAH and WCH.”

He also said the state government’s plans have received “overwhelming support” from clinicians. 

Opposition leader David Speirs has indicated the Liberal Party will support a parliamentary inquiry.

“We would support a parliamentary inquiry to dissect the rushed and secretive decision-making process surrounding the relocation of the WCH which now won’t be finished this decade,” he said in a statement.

“It would also be an opportunity to dive into the specifics of the new build because – without a single grain of dirt being moved – it is already plagued by a $1.2 billion cost blowout.”

The state government said the cost of the hospital has blown out from the previous estimate of $1.95 billion to between $3 to $3.2 billion, with that increase in part due to Labor’s $150 million election commitment to build 50 extra beds and increase car parking, and construction costs increasing by $1475 per square metre.

Malinauskas threw down the gauntlet to the crossbench when he announced the government’s hospital relocation decision last month.

“There is going to be a clear choice here for everybody in the parliament to make. Do you choose political expediency? Or do you choose the long-term interests of the health system, particularly women and children,” he said on September 27.

“It is going to be a binary choice.”

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