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Wednesday, 22 August 2012
Page: 6136

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (17:07): I want to use this short time to acknowledge the amazing support and commitment of so many people who chose to come before our committee. We had over 130 contributions and a number of supplementary contributions where people put in an original application and talked about their concerns and issues, then, as they individually followed what was going on in the Hansard and through phone calls coming to the committee, they then felt that there were more things they wished to share with us. Whilst it was a trial at times for the committee secretariat to ensure that we had all this information, it is a wonderful acknowledgement of the skills and commitment and dedication of so many people in rural communities to ensuring that their rural communities get the best possible access to medical services.

As Senator Siewert said, a core aspect of our committee was to make sure that we were looking at the range of medical support. Too often we get into a debate about the number of doctors in rural areas. That is a worthy debate and no-one is moving away from that and it will continue to be problematical, as our committee found in terms of making sure that we have appropriate training. My personal favourite, as Senator Siewert has mentioned—and I think that most of our committee members will mention—is the issue around ensuring that we have people who want to work in the bush, people who want to have the chance to have training to receive professional skills so that we can make an effective link for those who want to work in the bush to get their skills and then return to the bush, and that was the aspect of 'rural-mindedness'. I believe that everyone who was on this committee is rural-minded, and I think all the people who came to give us a evidence are rural-minded. We think that should be valued in the way students are selected and the way assessments are done and, most particularly, the way training is actually executed. People need to have the opportunity to work in a rural setting to see the wonderful range of opportunities there in order to find out whether that is the place where they are best able to use their skills.

We saw through the evidence the range of issues that have come in by a series of governments. This is not a problem peculiar to one government or another. This is not a new issue. In fact I did say during the committee hearings that I think sometimes we get a degree of 'rosy-glassedness' when we look back on the past—and I apologise to Hansard for how you are going to spell that one! Nonetheless, I think that sometimes we look back and think that things were much better than they really were. If you look at the number of professionals working in the medical sphere that were available in some of these rural centres in the past, they were not well serviced all the time. I think that what we are doing now is balancing a situation where people have a greater expectation of their rights to have effective medical services, and that is appropriate. In the past they may have been prepared to put up with one doctor with extensive working responsibilities and no time off and with no Allied Health—and I do acknowledge the point made by Senator Siewert—I am unabashedly a proponent for Allied Health Services. When you are talking about medical services, you are talking about the range of wonderful professional help that we should be able to access no matter where we live.

We heard about the number of recommendations. I particularly want to acknowledge the work of the Rural Health Alliance. Their professional commitment to this area over many years was really the basis for much of the evidence that we received. Not only did we receive it from the alliance, we received it from a number of their component parts. So thank you very much to Gordon Gregory for his resilience, his commitment and his professional knowledge. He was so valuable in working with our committee, ensuring that we knew what the background knowledge was.

Before I sit down, I particularly want to acknowledge Senator Judith Adams. One of the things that was with us all the time was the fact that this was a committee that Judith was dedicated to, and I felt at times that she was there giving evidence. I think we need to see that the work of women like Judith, countrywomen, strong professional nurses who have knowledge of their community and a desire to ensure that their communities are well serviced, is valued. We need those people. We need to acknowledge them. We need to respect them and we need to fund them well, because no community can exist without people who have that knowledge and dedication.

I commend all our recommendations and I think that in the future we will have more things to say. This was a committee on which it was a joy to serve. We met people that had the same sense of commitment we had, and the recommendations of this committee can make a difference. Thank you for being part of it.