Minister no help - Funds still tied up

14 Jun, 2006 10:04 AM

Despite a number of letters and emails from concerned residents the New South Wales Minister for Health John Hatzistergos has offered little help to the Milton Cancer Outpatients Appeal.

The Appeal is calling for more than $300,000 of community money, raised for the construction of a cancer clinic in Milton, to be returned to the committee by the South Eastern Sydney Illawarra Health Service.

2UE's John Laws interviewed the minister on June 6 about the community money and according to Appeal president Dee Carrington Mr Hatzistergos said he didn't know the details relating to the issue.

"The NSW Health Minister said on the radio that he didn't know the details about the SESIAHS refusing to return more than $300,000 raised by the community," Mrs Carrington said.

"This is despite a number of letters and emails being sent in the past six weeks.

"I would suggest that more people need to send the minister letters and emails with their concerns so he can get up-to-date with what is happening."

Member for South Coast Shelley Hancock accused the minister of offering no assistance to the Appeal.

"John Laws interviewed the NSW Health Minister John Hatzistergos who by his own admission didn't even know if the account the money was being held in was earning interest," Mrs Hancock said.

"He failed to offer any real assistance."

 

The Appeal, which was established in 2003, has raised more than $400,000 to date through donations from the community, raffles and by organising other events.

 

The money was deposited in an account with the SESIHS and Mrs Carrington said it was her understanding the money would be returned to the Appeal when it received its charity status.

Despite calling for an urgent meeting with the Appeal committee the SESIHS only confirmed the meeting, set for June 19, last week.

"The meeting was supposed to be urgent and it took them this long to arrange it," Mrs Carrington said.

"I don't think SESIHS understand the long term implications of them withholding the funds.

"People won't forget this and it will take people a long time to trust that the SESIHS again.

"This is our money and our project and they have no responsibility for building the clinic."

Mrs Hancock, who raised the issue of the Appeal money in State parliament and has been fighting for the funds to be returned, said SESIHS withholding the funds was devastating for the community.

"The problem with SESIHS having the money is that they have a lot of red tape to go through before releasing a cheque unlike the committee, which can essentially sign off on it straight away," Mrs Hancock said.

"This project needs to get going and the longer SESIHS hold on to the money, the longer it will be before a dedicated cancer service is established in the southern Shoalhaven."

A spokesperson for the SESIHS reiterated that the money could not be used for anything other than that which the community intended.

"The money is currently held in an interest bearing Special Purpose and Trust account, where it was deposited by the Cancer Outpatients Appeal Committee.

"Interest is paid quarterly and there are no account keeping fees associated with this account."

Mrs Carrington said a claim the interest was being paid quarterly was incorrect.

"The interest is not being paid quarterly," Mrs Carrington said.

"We agreed to have interest paid monthly and that the committee would receive a monthly statement.

"We have received nothing since December 2005."

She called the SESIHS refusal to handover the community money a stalling tactic and an affront to the community.

"The community worked so hard for that money and I feel we have every right to feel annoyed and frustrated," Mrs Carrington said.

"We are no further forward than we were six weeks ago when it all came out that SESIHS would not return the money.

"If I were them I'd want this solved as quickly as possible."

The Times contact the NSW Health Minister John Hatzistergos' office for comment but by the time of publication had not received a reply.