There is a bad smell in the West. Now there is nothing new in that but the pong just won’t go away even if the Fong has.

Neale Fong was forced last month to resign as the DG for Health in WA in the wake of a Corruption and Crime Commission Report which showed inter alia that he had “engaged in misconduct by telling his Minister that he had no recollection of any email communication between himself and Mr Burke and had no personal relationship with Mr Burke while the Commission found evidence to the contrary.”

So the nefarious (former premier) Brian Burke strikes again!

Ever since Fong’s departure, there has been pressure on Jim McGinty, the health minister, to resign. Troy Buswell, the new state leader of the Liberals, has suggested that there is a need for a parliamentary inquiry into why an FOI request did not reveal the “missing emails” that Fong denied existed (and which revealed his contacts with Burke). McGinty accepted, on Fong’s word, that they did not exist. Yet, lo and behold, the CCC found them, all 33 of them!

What seems to be missing currently in all of the media coverage of this is any assessment of the implications of these events for the health and health care of West Australians. The former (now former former I suppose) DG for health, Mike Daube, has been in the media defending Jim McGinty’s record as a health minister and doubting if anyone in the current state government could do better. We were told for a long time that Fong’s $600,000 plus salary (the highest paid public servant in Australia) was justified because he was so good at his job.

Yet the health service management culture here has left much to be desired. Many good senior management staff have left. A new tertiary hospital has been ‘planned’, the estimated building costs of which have shot up from $700 million to $1.8 billion. Community care, Aboriginal health and rural and remote health and health care have been neglected. The WA health service is not a pretty sight.

So if McGinty and Fong were the best available, does this not mean that WA can’t manage to run its own health services successfully? NSW have announced their Special Commission of Inquiry. It is not so long since there was an inquiry into Queensland Health. Are these not evidence for handing the whole caboodle over to Canberra?

Maybe, and wouldn’t it be ironic, events here in the West will be the catalyst to get us to that hallowed health-land of a unified national health care system. By a somewhat circuitous route, through the back door and without any intent on his part, it might just be Brian Burke who will help to create that national health care system!

Disclaimer 1. I have never met or had email or phone contact with Brian Burke.
Disclaimer 2. If I had, I would still deny it.

Peter Fray

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