Evans Head nursing home plan still viable
By JAMIE BROWN
POLITICAL cage-rattling by Federal Shadow Minister for Ageing, Sen. Jan McLucas, had the potential to derail an important community project, warned Richmond Valley Council general manager Brian Wilkinson this week.
Sen. McLucas on Thursday urged a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra to re-think funding approval for the Ballina Ex-Services Home aged care complex at Evans Head, considering polluted land earmarked for its development could delay completion indefinitely.
However the Federal Department of Health and Ageing, which funds nursing home beds, stands by its support of the Ballina Ex-Servicemens' Home project.
"We stand by our offer of funded beds," said spokeswoman Kay McNeice. "Now it's up to the local council to sort out whether the site is appropriate."
Ballina Ex-Servicemens' Home CEO Paul Morris also re-iterated his support for the project, saying his organisation had no plans to up-stumps.
The site, on former RAAF aerodrome land, remains contentious with a recent investigation finding the land contaminated with coal tar, asbestos and lead.
Sen. Jan McLucas was particularly concerned, telling the Senate estimates hearing: "For the department to be allocating beds to a former RAAF base I think that means our process of assessment needs to be tightened up."
"We are now aware it's contaminated land," aged care division first assistant secretary Andrew Stuart had replied.
"There are things which sometimes emerge in the process of getting ready to build that can't be foreseen."
Sen. McLucas mistakenly said recent reports commissioned by Richmond Valley Council into the site's pollution had found 'potential for unexploded ordinance, ie bombs, and pyrotechnics'.
"I don't know if that's an appropriate place to put our vulnerable elderly people," she said at the hearing. "Indeed, senator," Mr Stuart replied.
Now, Sen McLucas says those allocations have been delayed for far too long, and local elderly are suffering as a result.
She says the Federal Government should work more closely with communities to better assess applications and avoid problems like those coming to light at Evans Head.