Tonight's Budget has kept faith with four major initiatives which, over time, will help transform Australian society and contribute to good health, including in rural and remote areas. As expected, there are some significant new investments in cancer care and treatment, but little else to excite those in the health sector. And disappointingly, no improvements yet to rural health workforce programs.
The four major initiatives are the Gonski education reforms, DisabilityCare Australia, improvements to public dental health services (initially for children and teenagers) and the National Broadband Network. Although much of the detail relating to the first two is still in their fine print, foundations have been made which will ensure they become realities and so help lay the basis for good health.
If rural schools can be funded according to educational need it should be possible to equalise educational outcomes in rural areas, making a contribution to greater city-country equity in employment, income and health.
DisabilityCare Australia, with the ongoing support of State and Territory Governments and underpinned by the Medicare levy increase, will end the lottery relating to care for people living with a disability - a lottery which those affected in rural and remote areas win even less frequently than those in major cities.
These two major initiatives have been confirmed tonight as areas for significant investment over the next several years. And GUS is very welcome - Grow Up Smiling - which will see the Commonwealth investing in dental care for 2 to 17 year-olds, starting 1 January 2014, part of the dental reform package announced in August 2012.
The fourth, also confirmed in tonight's Budget, is the Government's commitment to the National Broadband Network. Like the education and disability reforms, the NBN is a long-term and high cost project which, when fully delivered, will improve health and wellbeing (including through enhanced business opportunities) for people everywhere and give the same chances in a digital world for people in remote, rural and city areas.
The savings measures necessary for underpinning these initiatives include a halving of the allocation to the National Rural and Remote Health Infrastructure program from $10 to $5 million a year. The smaller amount will be focused on remote Indigenous communities and places under 20,000 people.
Those who went to the 12th National Rural Health Conference will be delighted about continued investment in Indigenous eye health. And in what is a credit to its advocates, funding has been uncapped and new money provided for a year for the Mental Health Nurse Incentive Program while it is being redesigned. Major new investments in screening and services for breast, prostate, lung and bowel cancer are also very welcome.