PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 11433


Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 05/08/1999

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 11433

Subjects: Health system; rural health


Well thank you very much Dr Sharman Stone, the Member for Murray, to Mrs

Anne McCamish, to Professor Alan Gilbert, the Vice Chancellor of the University

of Melbourne, to Mr Paul Griggs, and may I say to you Paul thank you very

much for your words of welcome and I reciprocate by sending my warm respects

and regards to the Yorta Yorta people who you are representing here today

and it is very important the involvement of the indigenous community in

this and indeed in many other community projects and to Professor David

Simmons who is the inaugural overlord, if I can put it at that, of this

venture to which I am turning the first sod today.

This as I have indicated to other audiences over the last few hours is my

first visit to Shepparton as Prime Minister and it is a major regional centre

by any measurement in Australia, not just in Victoria, with a population

in the immediate city vicinity of 30 000 and much larger in the more broadly

defined Goulburn Valley area. It makes a major contribution to the economy

not only of Victoria but through, in particular but not only it's horticultural

industries, a major contribution to the economy of Australia. It is properly

described as something of a food basket for the entire Australian community

and it has a very energetic Parliamentary representative in the person of

Dr Sharman Stone who has been very active in the three and a quarter years

that she has been your member in pushing the particular challenges and the

particular causes of this area.

I think we all know that in Australia at the moment there is a properly

intense debate about the position and future of rural and regional communities

within our national life. I don't think there would be an Australian who

would dispute that part of the history, the essence and the being of the

Australian identity is the contribution that has been made to that identity

by what is variously described as rural Australia, regional Australia or

more affectionately "the bush" and over the years it has made

an enormous contribution to shaping our national identity and it has also

made an enormous and it continues to make a great contribution to the wealth

of our country particularly to our export income.

Earlier this morning I visited the largest pear producer in Australia and

this marvellous enterprise built on the back of a family business is an

example of the expertise and the skill of this district and the importance

of it. But rural communities and regional communities and Shepparton, although

larger than many has not been in anyway exempt or has not escaped the process,

has felt the pressure of the relocation of services, has experienced the

pressure of some services disappearing and has felt the pressure particularly

of declining availability of medical services and it was identified when

we came into Government as being an issue that needed a great deal of attention.

There was a chronic problem and there remains a chronic problem in attracting

enough doctors to rural areas of Australia. There are a variety of reasons

and there are many under this tent who will understand the reasons for that

better than I do but the Government does understand that it is a major challenge

and over the last few years we have set about responding to that challenge

because we believe that the quality of life of people in any part of the

community is based on the ready availability of some basic services, based

on a ready availability of police services, the ready availability of educational

services, the ready availability of medical services and the ready availability

of some, at least recreational services. When one or other of those services

are not available and particularly medical services then people are entitled

to claim that they are not being treated fairly and equally as part of the

Australian community. There are a lot of advantages of living in the bush

or regional Australia over living in the cities but there are also disadvantages

and the role of any Government in a fair way is to try and equalise the

opportunities and equalise the comforts. We are keen to do that in relation

to information technology, we don't want a society where you have technology

haves and have nots and we have had a number of initiatives particularly

out of the proceeds of the sale of the first instalment of Telstra to ensure

that that has happened. In relation to the problem of the shortage of Doctors

we have put a lot of effort into that. We have put extra resources, we have

introduced new schemes which are designed to attract more doctors through

a variety of devises attract more doctors to both go to the bush and to

stay in the bush.

Recently Dr Wooldridge, the Health Minister, himself a medical practitioner

and John Anderson, the newly appointed Deputy Prime Minister and leader

of the Federal Parliamentary National Party went on a tour of rural areas

to listen to the concerns of people and to explain to those people what

the Government was doing in response. In many ways that visit was something

of a watershed in producing both a deeper understanding on the part of the

Government of the feeling of people in rural communities and also on the

part of the rural communities, a deeper understanding on their part that

the Government had indeed over the past few years been doing a number of

quite practical things to try and turn around the drift of doctors away

from rural areas and to try and get more of them back to where they are

so sorely needed and to address in some way in the process the over supply

of doctors in many of the metropolitan areas of Australia by addressing

the under supply of doctors in rural areas.

Now one of the elements of that strategy has been to encourage the establishment

around Australia of centres which focus on rural health and rural health

problems. And the Federal government is providing on a recurrent basis funding

of $1.5 million over five years for this project, and it's also providing

capital support of $2.5 million.

I want to thank the University of Melbourne who's represented here today

by Vice Chancellor Professor Alan Gilbert, as well as the other universities

that are involved, the other Victorian universities that are involved in

the consortium which is associated with the school. What this school will

do will be to address very directly the, I guess, accumulation of deficiencies

and shortages as far as rural health is concerned. Not only the shortage

of doctors but also some of the challenges of which Sharman Stone spoke

in her words of introduction. It is not of course the final total answer

to the problem but it is another element of the integrated response that

is needed. What it does do of course is bring together the contributions

of the Federal government, the State government, the universities of Victoria,

the local communities in every sense of the word. Not only the local medical

fraternity but all others involved as health professionals, the local indigenous

community, it brings together as indicated by this audience today a cross

section of the entire community of Shepparton. And I hope it is seen as

not only a symbol, but also a very practical gesture by all of those who

are concerned about addressing the problems and deficiencies of rural health.

Having said something for a few minutes about problems and deficiencies

in the health area, could I by way of balance and perspective say something

about the pluses of the health system, not only of Victoria but the health

system of Australia. It's very fashionable these days whenever anybody occupying

a political position on either side of politics gets in front of a microphone

to say something critical about the Australian health system. Now I would

be the first to acknowledge as Prime Minister that the Australian health

system does have deficiencies. It has shortages of doctors in some parts

of Australia, it has some deficiencies in public hospitals, it has weaknesses

in many areas. But having acknowledged all of that, I make so bold as to

assert that with all its deficiencies the Australian health system is probably

better than any other in the world.

And I think it's very important that we don't allow the Australian health

system and the esteem the Australian public has for the Australian health

system to be cut down in the cross fire of endless political exchange because

we have without doubt, given the size of our population, made a greater

contribution than virtually any other western nation to medical research.

We have world class doctors, we have world class medical researchers. And

I'm very proud of the fact that in the last budget the government announced

that over the next five years it would double the amount of money going

to health and medical research in this country. And here particularly in

Victoria, Melbourne has an absolutely marvellous reputation for its research

capacity without peer anywhere in Australia, and certainly widely respected

around the world.

I frequently say that it's better if you're a battler to get sick in Broadmeadow

than the Bronx. And the reality is that our health system with all its flaws

and all its deficiencies is an infinitely better system than any on offer.

We have dedicated health professionals, compassionate hard working nurses,

and people generally who work together in a very cooperative fashion. Now

that is not the refrain of the complacent, and it's not a Prime Minister

saying everything in the garden is lovely, because everything in the garden

is not lovely and there is a place for a legitimate ongoing debate about

the status of our health system. We as a government remain committed to

maintaining the Medicare system. That is absolute and unqualified. We believe

that it can be built on. We believe that there is a role for private provision

in health. We believe that the two should complement each other. There are

imbalances and there are always changes and improvements that need to be

made. We've put more resources into private health insurance. We think that's

a positive move and we think over time that will make a contribution. We

have increased resources to the Australian States in relation to their responsibilities.

We don't ourselves see enormous merit in yet another wide ranging national

inquiry. I think the Australian community is a little tired of endless inquiries.

They're more interested in specific actions and specific initiatives such

as the centre for which I'm going to turn the first sod today.

So ladies and gentlemen, in acknowledging that there are a lot of problems,

and I do acknowledge that. And I acknowledge particularly the legitimate

concern, even anger of people in rural and regional Australia about the

inadequacies of some medical services. I want on the other hand to extol

some of the generic strengths of the Australian health system and to support

the magnificent quality of the doctors and the other health professionals

of Australia because they are in my view, without peer anywhere in Australia.

But finally can I again congratulate all of those associated with this project.

Can I thank Professor Alan Gilbert in particular for being here today and

representing the University of Melbourne, and the contribution of the universities

of Victoria to this project. I wish all of those associated with it well.

I agree with Sharman Stone that we should provide inducements for those

who work here not to slip back to Melbourne at the weekend and that is why

it's appropriate that I turn a sod for the accommodation wing so that there'll

be the proper wherewithal to entice them to remain in this beautiful community.

And again can I thank the people of Shepparton for their very warm welcome.

It's a delight to be in the Goulburn Valley, and I know that I should perhaps

have brought some of that Sydney rain with which I am reasonably well familiar.

But I hope that that turns to your advantage before too long and thank you

again for having me with you.


Transcript 11433