The Parliamentary Friends of Rural and Remote Health breakfast and visits to Members of Parliament and Senators on 11 September provided National Rural Health Alliance Council members the opportunity to meet with Federal Parliamentarians and engage with them on issues of importance to rural health and the delivery of health services to regional areas and communities.
While politics was certainly the order of the day around Parliament House, it was heartening to see a large number of MPs attend the Parliamentary Friends’ breakfast and meet with Alliance delegations to discuss their points of concern around rural health.
Alliance Chair, Tanya Lehmann, welcomed MPs to the breakfast and urged them to engage with the Alliance members at the event and throughout the day.
Deputy Chair, Dr Stephen Gourley, spoke about the issues confronting his emergency department in Alice Springs, with presentations to hospital exceeding 50,000 per year, much higher numbers than at Prince of Wales or Royal Prince Albert Hospitals in Sydney. Stephen spoke about his concern for the large growth in cases in the Northern Territory requiring renal dialysis and treatment for other medical diseases that would be considered rare in the city, such as trachoma, rheumatic heart disease and many skins disorders.
Outgoing Country Women’s Association of Australia President, Dorothy Coombe, spoke about the need to address systemic blockages in the delivery of health services to rural communities and the importance of providing ongoing support for farming communities during and after times of drought.
Co-chairs of the Parliamentary Friends of Rural and Remote Health, Warren Ensch (Member for Leichhardt, Qld) and Warren Snowden (Member for Lingiari, NT) responded with speeches about health issues in their own electorates such as the high rates of suicide and diabetes; broader issues confronting access to health services and the need to travel long distances or whole families relocating to access end-of-life care; housing; employment; food security; and ensuring access to a well-trained workforce.
The breakfast was covered by the Ten Network which ran a piece on the national news program, The Project, that night.
Following the breakfast, Council members split into a number of groups to meet with some 30 MPs and Senators across all parties. The groups used the briefing points agreed to by Council to highlight three key issues:
- development of Phase 2 of a Stronger National Rural Health Strategy;
- the desirability of a dedicated Minister for Rural Health to provide leadership and focus on implementation of the Strategy; and
- the need for universal connectivity to connect business, education and health services to rural communities.
Some of the highlights from the meetings included:
- the Minister for Regional Services, Senator Bridget McKenzie, meeting with the Alliance Chair and CEO;
- the Health Minister asking for a proposal to further activity around rural health services;
- an offer from Warren Ensch to assist with the development of this proposal; and
- a presentation to retiring Senator John Williams, a long-time Alliance supporter.