Ambulance, hospital issues taken up in debate

Taieri Labour MP Ingrid Leary speaks in Parliament on Thursday. PHOTO: PARLIAMENT TV
Taieri Labour MP Ingrid Leary speaks in Parliament on Thursday. PHOTO: PARLIAMENT TV
It turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks.

On Thursday, Parliament broke fresh ground with its first "local issues" debate, an innovation introduced in last year’s review of standing orders.

Like the weekly general debate, it offers any MP the chance to speak but, crucially, they need to focus on a matter of local rather than national importance.

Speaker Trevor Mallard warned MPs of that three sentences into its first speech, as National Party list MP Nick Smith, of Nelson, settled in for a barely localised attack on

the housing package announced by the Government earlier in the week.

Two minutes later, Mr Mallard had had enough and ordered Mr Smith to sit down — hardly an auspicious start to parliamentary consideration of local issues.

Subsequent speeches were more on point, though, and covered such topics as roads in Wellington, roads in Auckland and roads on the North Shore.

While roads are a big topic in the South as well, they were not what Taieri Labour MP Ingrid Leary or National Dunedin list MP Michael Woodhouse wanted to talk about.

Their local issues, taken straight from the front page of the Otago Daily Times, were the local ambulance service and the progress — or otherwise — in the building of the new Dunedin Hospital, respectively.

Ms Leary has a history with the ambulance service issue, as one of her first acts as an MP was accepting Mosgiel woman Pauline Latta’s petition calling for full funding of St John.

Bravely, she told Parliament that while she accepted the petition she was not entirely convinced that full funding was the remedy to the ambulance service’s woes.

However, she was entirely convinced there was an equity issue for her rural constituents about access to ambulance services, exhibit A in her argument being an ODT story about a Balclutha 91-year-old left languishing injured in her garden as local ambulance crews were busy elsewhere.

"If the two Balclutha ambulances were tied up on other calls, it could conceivably mean a six-hour round trip to get someone, say, from a road accident, to Dunedin Hospital, or it could be that a volunteer may not be able to administer pain relief," Ms Leary said.

"What I would like to see, as the MP for a mixed rural and urban area, is a bigger nuance in how we deal with ambulance services and, in fact, all medical services for our rural areas."

Fortunately for Ms Leary, the Government is about to gear up for an overhaul of the health system, so her contribution was a timely reminder the system is there to serve country as well as town.

Mr Woodhouse used his five minutes to get very fired up indeed about the new Dunedin Hospital, twice saying the Government’s feet needed to be "kept to the flames" on the issue.

Mr Woodhouse, like many others, is eagerly awaiting the detailed business case for the hospital — which is a year overdue and counting.

"My sources are telling me that there is a huge battle going on in the background between Treasury, the Ministry of Health, and probably Cabinet on the scope, size, and cost of the rebuild of Dunedin Hospital," he said, before going on to challenge the local southern Labour MPs to "bang on the door of the Minister of Health".

It is doubtful that Mr Woodhouse’s rhetoric would inspire Ms Leary, David Clark or Liz Craig to storm those barricades.

But if it does demonstrate that there is parliamentary concern over the future shape and size of Dunedin Hospital, then that is at least one local issue well worth raising.



Making a difference

Dunedin woman Kathryn van Beek is not an MP, but she had a great deal to do with a law which Parliament passed on Wednesday.

The Holidays (Bereavement Leave for Miscarriage) Amendment Bill (No2), passed unanimously, provides that prospective parents are entitled to bereavement leave in the event of a miscarriage or stillbirth.

Ms van Beek miscarried in 2016 and although she received assistance from her employer, Otago Polytechnic, a reading of the Holidays Act suggested that it was not at all clear that she could take bereavement leave while dealing with the initial stages of her loss.

She wrote to then Dunedin South MP Clare Curran about the issue, and at a follow-up meeting Ms Curran suggested Ms van Beek gather support for such a law change and then lobby Parliament.

A groundswell of backing became a flood of endorsements, and a member’s Bill was drafted.

By this stage, Ms Curran was a Cabinet minister and unable to introduce the Bill herself, so she passed the baton on to her newly-elected Labour colleague Ginny Andersen.

Three years later, Ms Curran is no longer in the House, but can take considerable credit for her part in the process.

Ms Andersen can also take a lap of honour but Ms van Beek — who watched the law change she initiated come into effect from the public gallery — deserves the lion’s share of the plaudits.

"It was heartening to hear so many people in support of the Bill, and I think it’s amazing that politicians are speaking about such private issues on such a public stage," Ms van Beek said.

"Their actions will help break down some of the taboos around miscarriage and baby loss."

The law change made headlines on the BBC, CNN and in The New York Times, which is not bad going for something which started out as a constituent appointment in Dunedin.


Mr Woodhouse has no credibility at all . All the time he has been in govt he has never done anything to promote or defend Dunedin. He was conspicuously invisible when things like the neurosurgery , kiwirail etc debates were going on . Only showing his head to defend the National party.
In 2008 National promised Dunedin a hospital within 10 years at a cost of approx 330 million . By the time National were evicted their quoted cost was over a billion, they had made no progress in 9 years . No business plan , no scope , no site , etc. Nothing , not even funding allocated in budgets . And now they criticize Labour who have made more progress in 3 years than National did in 10 . National are great at promises but a look at actual budget allocations show just how legit they are.
Other examples are the housing crises platform they ran on in 2008 then denied existed for 9 years while selling of housing and not reinvesting the profits or allocating funding for replacements ,or announcing a 20 billion upgrade of our military but making no provision for it in budgets etc and numerous other examples.
Their credibility is shot.
At least Labour is putting money where their mouth is and try

I love everything about living in Dunedin - except one thing. It is a ridiculous stronghold of one-eyed Labour cheerleaders. Jacinda could walk down George Street strangling babies and she'd still get congratulatory slaps on the back!