Labor bins Riverbank Arena as first order of cabinet business

Premier Peter Malinauskas has used his first cabinet meeting to halt all work on the Marshall Government’s $662m Riverbank Arena, as the new Labor administration scrambles to boost hospital capacity for a predicted jump in COVID-19 cases.

Labor singled out the $662 million “basketball stadium” for constant attack during the election campaign, indicating as early as June last year that it would ditch the 15,000-seat arena and instead direct funds towards the state’s embattled health system.

The Marshall Government had allocated $78.9 million for “planning and site preparation works” on the multipurpose facility from 2022 to 2025, although early works were not scheduled to begin until 2025-26 with completion due in 2027-28.

Beginning his second week as premier, Malinauskas touted today’s cabinet decision as “significant” as it “frees up money which can now be spent on fixing the state’s ramping crisis”.

“The Basketball Stadium was a nice idea and it would have been nice to have, but getting an ambulance on time when you call Triple Zero is something we all need to have,” he said in a statement.

“This is all about priorities and I made it clear in the lead up to the election that my priority was to invest more money in our health system.”

Malinauskas later told reporters the $78 million budgeted for the project over the forward estimates “has now already been allocated towards health”. 

“The remainder of the balance of the $662 million will be brought forward as committed, and that will done through the budget process,” he said. 

“We also intend to announce the date of the budget in the next fortnight.”

Malinauskas also announced the cabinet has approved $2 million in funding for an advertising campaign promoting booster shots.

“$2 million is a substantial increase on previous advertising campaigning efforts around vaccination take up,” he said.

“It’s a significant pool of funds that we want to get out spending as quickly as possible to remind South Australians just how important the take up of the third dose is.”

It comes as the new government rushes to stand up 200 hospital beds to prepare the state’s health system for a COVID-19 peak next month of more than 8000 cases a day.

The modelled increase will see adult hospital ward occupancy for COVID-19 tip above 200 in early April.

South Australia today recorded 4140 new cases of COVID-19 and three deaths, Health Minister Chris Picton said a short time ago.

There are now 181 people in hospital, up from 158 on Sunday.

Picton, a key figure in Labor’s successful election campaign on ambulance ramping and hospital capacity, said that up to 100 patients were waiting for a bed in an emergency department each day and the State Government was trying to find “any potential hospital bed that we can open and staff” in the next few weeks.

“We’re in a very serious state at the moment in terms of the health system and we need very urgent action to try to address that,” he told ABC Radio this morning.

Asked whether this would include a ban on non-urgent elective surgery, Picton said: “We don’t want to do that.”

“The only way we got through the last wave was that there was a ban on all non-urgent elective surgery in both public and private hospitals,” he said.

“We want that to be a last resort … and that’s why we’re trying to find as much additional capacity as possible.

“But to be frank, if that needs to happen that will have to happen, unfortunately.”

The new Labor cabinet meeting this morning. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Picton said the 200 beds were needed to deal with the 100 additional COVID patients expected to present next month along with the 100 patients currently waiting in EDs.

He also said work was underway with local health networks and private hospitals to find bed capacity, and highlighted the mothballed Parkwynd private hospital on East Terrace as a possible option.

“There’s a number of other private beds that haven’t been used yet, there’s some peri-urban hospital capacity that we haven’t used yet, and potentially there’s some other standby beds and other capacity elsewhere in our metropolitan hospital system,” he said.

The looming COVID peak comes despite the new government opting on Friday to slash quarantine times for family close contacts from 14 to seven days and change the definition of a close contact from 15 minutes face to face to four hours.

Pressed on why restrictions were being eased with cases set to rise, Picton said: “Even if you were to turn the tap back on in terms of restrictions … that’s going to have a very marginal impact in terms of hospitalisations over the next few weeks.”

Govt search for Victoria Park testing alternative

Queues at Victoria Park testing station at the peak of the pandemic last year. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

The Malinauskas Government’s push to return the Adelaide 500 to the city’s streets has forced SA Health to begin planning for a temporary relocation of the state’s main metropolitan COVID-19 testing clinic.

Picton confirmed this morning that the Victoria Park testing clinic will be out of action during the December race, but the State Government’s intention is to “keep the same level of [testing] capacity across our system”.

However, he conceded “there isn’t a plan sitting there” for the clinic’s relocation.

“We’ll make sure that we’re now doing the work in terms of finding another site, putting additional capacity on other sites across the system to make sure we can keep that testing capacity up,

“Our desire is that we’d look at another site centrally in the city.”

Last week, an average of around 14,100 people in South Australia presented for a COVID-19 test each day, according to SA Health data.

SA Health reported that wait times for a PCR test at Victoria Park were less than an hour at 10am this morning.

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