| June 19, 2018
Health Policy in Murray
My electorate of Murray is one that I believe is not considerably different to many of the other regional seats in the House of Representatives. I think that my electorate of Murray mirrors a large portion of regional Australia in relation to its needs for health and medical services. The electorate covers over 16,000 square kilometres, and the countryside varies from the rolling hills of the Strathbogie Ranges to the very flat irrigation area of the Goulburn Valley, with extensive farming out to the west and the beautiful prime cropping area around the Dookie Hills. Murray has one major population centre, that being Shepparton, with an urban population of over 50,000 people, but there are many medium-sized satellite towns such as Echuca, with 13,000 people, and over 20,000 if you consider its twin town of Moama. Kyabram has over 7½ thousand people, Cobram 6,000 people, Yarrawonga 7,000 people and Tatura 4,000 people. We then move into a small range of towns, hamlets and villages such as Violet Town, Euroa, Murchison, Nagambie, Girgarre, Strathmerton, Merrigum, Pyramid Hill, Inglewood, Wedderburn, Boort and on it goes out through the west—smaller towns, each of them with their respective and different health needs and services.
I am painting this picture widely because of the diverse spread and demographics in this area, which has unique needs, particularly when it comes to health services. The populations and the tyranny of distance are great challenges in providing basic health services to the people of Murray, and I know this is just a generic snapshot of regional and rural Australia. Over recent weeks, I've had the opportunity to meet a number of healthcare providers, and over the two years that I've been in this job as the member for Murray I think I've visited every healthcare facility in the electorate of Murray. We have many aged-care providers, from Shepparton Villages, which is one of the largest aged-care facilities outside of the capital cities, right through to some of the much smaller ones. I've spoken to a whole range of pharmacists, who also provide amazing services. Only two weeks ago I had my annual flu shot in a pharmacy in Shepparton. General practitioners are also struggling to recruit and retain doctors for their practices, and this tends to extend the waiting times for patients to get appointments. There is a general lack of rural generalists, and this has been a problem for way too long.
This situation is bringing to light some of the investments that the government has made and the positive steps it has taken to try and address these shortages. We had a huge announcement last year by the then Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care, David Gillespie, in relation to the appointment of our Rural Health Commissioner, Emeritus Professor Paul Worley. The commissioner's first priority is to develop the National Rural Generalist Pathway, and he is well on the way to delivering that pathway. It must be understood that we do not need more doctors. We have, in essence, enough doctors throughout Australia. The medical students are actually worried about whether or not they're going to get a job. The biggest problem we have is the maldistribution of those positions throughout Australia. It has been the National Party's long-held belief that we need a series of end-to-end medical schools in the Murray-Darling region. This came to fruition when Senator McKenzie was able to announce that, in conjunction with the University of Melbourne and La Trobe University, we are going to be able to offer students from the Goulburn Valley the opportunity to do end-to-end medical training, to do an undergraduate degree to become a medical doctor and then to undertake a larger array of the specialist courses that one needs to undertake on the journey from being an aspiring medical student to actually having your area of specialty in the future. This $95 million commitment for the Murray-Darling medical school network has come to fruition now, and those students in the Goulburn Valley are going to be the beneficiaries. Minister, can you outline some of the benefits of having more doctors, more specialists, in regional Australia due to these medical schools?