Labor welcomes the much-awaited legislation to establish a National Rural Health Commissioner – however we think more needs to be done to ensure this role adequately supports Australians living in rural and remote areas.
The National Rural Health Commissioner role has the potential to improve health care delivery in the bush, but the legislation introduced by the Government has some critical deficiencies:
· The office is limited to three years
· The Commissioner is only appointed for two years
· It may be a part time appointment
· It has a very narrow focus
· It is still unclear what resources will be provided to the Commissioner.
Remote Australia experiences unique challenges – average life spans of women and men are, respectively, 2 years and 3.4 years lower than city dwellers and chronic disease levels, including diabetes, coronary heart disease, lung cancer, eye disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, are considerably higher. At the same time, the ratio of health professionals is much lower than in the city areas.
Developing a National Rural Generalist Pathway is important but it is not a silver bullet to all the problems facing health professionals working in rural and remote Australia.
Whilst Labor supports the Bill, we will be moving amendments in the Senate to improve the legislation.
Those amendments will improve the legislation by:
· broadening the scope of the Commissioner’s role;
· reviewing rather than ceasing the Commissioner’s role on 1 July 2020; and
· establishing an unpaid advisory board to support the Commissioner.
The appointment of a National Rural Health Commissioner will only make a real difference if the Commissioner is properly resourced, has appropriate powers and a broad remit. Regrettably the Government’s proposal does not live up to the high expectations created by the Minister.
If the Government is serious about strengthening the role of the Commissioner then they should join with Labor and support these amendments.
MONDAY, 20 MARCH 2017