THE federal government is slamming the door on Peter’s Project with federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek refusing to even meet with campaigners seeking an integrated cancer care centre for the south-west.
The massive blow was delivered yesterday morning in a brief one-page letter written by a mid-level bureaucrat, bluntly stating that there was no money in the Commonwealth budget for the project.
Supporters were left bitterly disappointed by the minister’s refusal to even meet with the group and discuss the long-running campaign, which has captured the hearts of donors across the district.
The entire project hinges on a $10 million federal commitment for the construction of a dedicated centre at the Warrnambool Base Hospital. The state government would fund the remaining $15 million — although its verbal promise is yet to find its way into budget ink.
So far the state government has committed $5 million in this year’s budget towards the project’s planning stages.
But yesterday’s blow has left campaigners struggling to find a way forward as south-west cancer sufferers are forced to continue travelling long distances to Geelong or Melbourne for radiotherapy treatment.
“We knew they weren’t going to send the money but we’re very disappointed they wouldn’t meet with us,” Peter’s Project director Vicki Jellie said.
“What we sent them was formally done, it wasn’t just a note. We wanted to meet with her so we could further explain what the people of the south-west need.”
Federal member for Wannon Dan Tehan made no attempt to hide his anger over the letter, which he claimed was written by a mid-ranking bureaucrat.
“This letter is an insult,” Mr Tehan told The Standard.
“I can’t find any other words than utterly, utterly disgusting.”
Mr Tehan and South West Coast MP Denis Napthine — who has been a long-serving supporter of the project — will meet with Ms Jellie and other members of Peter’s Project in the coming weeks to decide their next move.
Ms Jellie said she hoped the department would reverse its decision and meet with the group.
Last year Ms Jellie and other campaigners met with opposition health spokesman Peter Dutton in Warrnambool.
While the Coalition stopped short of a policy announcement, Mr Dutton said the centre would be considered in the lead-up to this year’s federal election.
Dr Napthine said supporters now had little option but to take their case to Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
“I think Peter’s Project need to take the case directly to the prime minister to say how the federal health minister has failed to understand their case,” Dr Napthine said.
Dr Napthine also foreshadowed a picket line outside the prime minister’s electorate office in Werribee if campaigners continued to hit a brick wall.
The state member also echoed his disgust at how the Peter’s Project had been discarded to a lower echelon desk at federal level.
“I’m a minister in a state government and I insist on every piece of correspondence coming across my desk,” he said.
“When you have a group like Peter’s Project who have established a reputation for working hard, the minister should know who they are.”
The Department of Health and Ageing responded late yesterday saying it was normal for staff to respond to such requests on behalf of the minister.
“As the Department of Health and Ageing administers this scheme it is standard practice for the dept to answer correspondence, including regarding the funding proposal to support Peter’s Project,” a spokeswoman said in a statement.
“Unfortunately the Health and Hospitals Fund is fully committed and there are no plans to run further funding rounds at this time.”