New Cardiac Unit to Serve ChristchurchDeputy Prime Minister
Mayor Vicky Buck, Chairman Syd Bradley, Mr Richard Bunton, David de la Mare, Hon Bill English, Ron Mark, Jenny Bloxham, ladies and gentlemen.
The opening of this new cardiac unit is a great day for the people of Christchurch and a great day for New Zealand.
It's a great day because it means the end of more than 20 years of frustration and disappointment.
It's a great day because it means the end of years of wrangling and negotiation.
And it's great because it's the end of years of anxiety for those who fought so hard for this unit.
The debate over this unit has been going on since 1973 when Dunedin got the South Island's first cardiac surgery, 20 years after Greenlane.
Since that time, this whole debate has been fraught with frustration and disaster and endless meetings. That is, until the National-New Zealand First Government took office exactly 12 months ago.
Today's our first birthday, and you will forgive us for being proud to be here today. You see, the plan that led to a breakthrough for this unit, was brokered with the Minister of Health in my office.
We found a solution and we found the money. We did this by reminding ourselves why we are in Wellington: To do our very best for the people of New Zealand. And we must never forget that.
At the New Zealand First Convention last month, Dr Hamid Ikram told us that we were the first politicians who had visited Christchurch to get to the bottom of this issue.
He said we were the first people who showed we cared. We were the first people who wanted to find a real solution. And we were the first people who came to listen to all sides to find that solution.
That's why today, New Zealand First shares in the pride of this unit with the Minister of Health and people of Christchurch.
The skeptics said it wouldn't happen. Well, like so much this year, they were wrong. The unit is now open and we have our first patient with us here today - Mr de la Mare.
What successive first-past-the post single party Governments wouldn't and couldn't do over 25 years, this Coalition Government did in less than one year.
The point that needs to be stressed today is that this unit is just one of many achievements made under the Coalition Agreement.
Just this morning, I uncovered an eight metre report card, listing more than 213 policy achievements made in our first year.
They include significant new investment in the public health system. An investment of some $5.197 billion for the 1997-98 year alone.
This money allows us to:
Provide free healthcare for under-sixes
Abolish asset testing for elderly in long-term care
Abolish user part-charges
Reduce waiting lists
Improve primary care and
Improve mental health
This Coalition Government is making hospitals health driven, NOT profit driven. We're the people that call hospitals hospitals, doctors doctors and nurses nurses.
We believe in critical investments in our young, in our sick, in the elderly, in the security of our homes and our people. We believe in spending money on treating people and not wasting it on unnecessary bureaucracy.
And these beliefs are embodied in the Coalition Agreement which will continue to deliver much needed benefits to all New Zealanders.
This unit is further proof we've got a successful formula. We have low inflation, stable economic growth, and substantial surpluses. We have successful economic policies and we have caring social policies.
Today we have halved the cost of servicing public debt, but each dollar spent, each year, on servicing remaining debt is a dollar not available for health, education, employment and fighting crime. $2,500 million is a lot of debt servicing.
Yet we have to get the economy right to free up more money for areas like public health. And we are doing that.
That's the challege we face now. We are managing the budget for yesterday, today and tomorrow.
With a little more time we will get there.
Finally, congratulations to the team here at Christchurch Hospital and those at Dunedin Hospital and to the staff at the Southern Regional Health Authority.
I know you have all worked very hard to get this Cardiac Unit off the ground and it has only been possible through your commitment and teamwork. That is reflected in the joint-venture arrangement between Canterbury Health and HealthCare Otago to provide this service.
We now look forward to the surgeons doing hundreds of vital operations for South Islanders in their own public hospitals.