Politics promises progress for people of rural and remote areas

18 March 2011

At the conclusion of the 11th National Rural Health Conference this week in Perth, delegates had some reasons to be heartened about the prospects for action at national and state levels to improve rural and remote health.
Dr Jenny May, Chairperson of the Alliance, said there are good signs that in the time between now and the next biennial Conference much will be delivered by governments on the rural health front.
“For one thing, Nicola Roxon emphasised to us that the Government in which she serves understands the inequity currently experienced by country people and is determined to correct it. She emphasised that the Government was committed to this action even before the hung parliament in Canberra. Many of those at the Conference felt that the situation in Canberra will further strengthen the Government’s regional commitment.”
“Secondly, in her address the Minister confirmed the Prime Minister’s determination to make 2011 a year of policy action. The roll-out of Medicare Locals is evidence of this on the health front, and the way forward now looks more clear given the recent agreements on health at COAG, which included all jurisdictions,” Dr May said.
“And third, it was clear from the more politicised approach of many of the 1,100 delegates at the conference in Perth that the rural and remote health sector itself is in no mood to be denied. Several of our speakers spoke strongly of the need for the sector to leap forward through
the current window of opportunity.”
The Alliance will continue to faithfully represent the interests of people of rural, regional and remote areas and will work collaboratively with Nicola Roxon and her colleagues to ensure that, despite the tight federal budget, the opportunities to progress towards equal health for country people are maximised in 2011.
In the closing session, the Minister heard of the Conference’s focus on important principles which must underpin action on rural and remote health. First and foremost, people in rural and remote Australia want to be more empowered in relation to their health and their health services.
“We often feel frustrated at the physical, emotional and intellectual distance that seems to exist between some of our political leaders and the issues we face in remote and rural areas,” Dr May said.
Delegates also expressed the belief that the national health system is currently being managed without an overt, strong and appropriate values base.
“The people of rural and remote areas and others who are currently missing out on access to health services are the ones who would benefit most from more effective application of the principles of universality, equity and compassion. We were encouraged by the expert speakers who provided evidence that Australians care about those of their number who are worse off. A commitment to compassion and fairness should be one of the characteristics of our health system,” Dr May said.
Conference delegates agreed on a set of 13 priority recommendations, the first of which recorded their thanks to Minister Roxon for the leadership she has exercised on women’s and men’s health and smoking cessation. Three of the other priority recommendations relate to partnerships: in Medicare Locals, health promotion, and arts and health. The other nine concern the Close the Gap campaign and the Closing the Gap work; food sovereignty; greater support for rural and remote health service managers; other reforms to the rural and remote health workforce; some specifics relating to rural and remote ageing and aged care; dental health; mental health; better connectivity; and work to collate exemplars of good practice.
The Minister will be pleased to see that some of these priority recommendations are quite specific and actionable.
The priority recommendations, a colourful Conference Communiqué, and the full set of recommendations generated at the Conference (some 250 in all) can be seen on the Conference page of the Alliance website. There is also a link there to video presentations of all of the keynote speakers.