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Tuesday, 30 July 2019
Page: 1198


Senator McDONALD (Queensland) (19:57): Everyone who lives in remote Australia loves the Royal Flying Doctor Service, but they hope they never need them. However, the reality of living and working on the land, and even travelling for work or holidays through our great outback, means contact with this amazing service is more common than hoped.

The service was founded in 1928 by Reverend John Flynn and was born in my hometown of Cloncurry in north-west Queensland. Flynn's great achievement grew from a seed planted by a young World War I pilot called John Clifford Peel. In 1917, Lieutenant Peel, aware of Flynn's work in remote Australia, wrote to the reverend suggesting that the flying machines he was manning to take life in France could also be used to save life in the outback. Sadly, just over one year later the 24-year-old Peel and his plane went missing in France. But his dream was realised 10 years later when Reverend Flynn started the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Australia's past is littered with examples of young visionaries launching history changing ideas, and Lieutenant Clifford Peel deserves a place in that pantheon of the greats. Indeed, I believe Australia's youth of today still harvest the spirit, the daring and the courage to confront and overcome problems, especially those in remote Australia.

On Saturday night, I attended the Royal Flying Doctor Service's 'Wings for Life' ball. The RFDS is helping someone every two minutes of every day whether it is treating people, conducting telehealth consultations or flying to save a life. More than 88,000 people used the telehealth service last year. More than 1,600 nurse, GP and dental clinics were held across Australia. Pilots flew nearly 27 million kilometres, which is the equivalent of 34 trips to the moon and back. And more than 75,000 patients were transported to hospital by road, including tourists who were hurt in car and other accidents on their big adventure in the outback. Thankfully, though, Mount Isa Base senior medical officer, Don Bowley, who I spoke to on Saturday night, said that it had been a good year so far because there hadn't been so many tourist accidents. I hope that trend lasts a long time.

Country and regional people are used to doing it tough. When something out of the ordinary comes, they can be confident that expert, friendly help is close at hand. There are plenty of great things about living on the land, away from the hustle and bustle of city life, where the stars shine brighter and the people are friendlier. That is why so many people are happiest amongst the dust, the flies, the bad roads, the poor phone reception and the lack of amenities. They know there's a trade-off and it's a trade-off they're happy to make, but one of the big downsides of this deal is the lack of high-end or even low-end medical care that is available. I've known bushmen who've partially severed a finger and worked on because it took hours to get into town. Others might put up with a toothache for months before finally seeking professional help. Bush remedies are usually the first port of call when calamity strikes, but there are some ailments that even the toughest can't handle on their own, and this is where the RFDS get involved. If they need to be called, you know things must be serious. When I was a child we didn't use phones, of course—this was before everyone had a phone; we used the radio network. It was a very public medical consultation. Everybody used to tune in to listen to how their neighbours were dealing with issues that I'm sure none of us would normally like to share with the greater Gulf region.

The Flying Doctor Service couldn't exist without public donations and the help of an army of volunteers. The gala dinner that I attended in Brisbane on Saturday recognised its Local Hero Awards. I'd like to acknowledge them in this house. Val Marlow has been at the forefront of fundraising with the Brisbane Flying Doctor's auxiliary for over 30 years, working at events and conducting tours of the Brisbane base. Carolyn Saffron of Bundaberg has, for over a decade, worked tirelessly for the town's RFDS auxiliary. She's the committee president and can always be found at market stalls, sausage sizzles and fundraising functions. In Kowanyama, in western Cape York, David Durst and Raphael Lansen make themselves available to refuel the RFDS aircraft 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and help load patients. Nine hundred and seventy kilometres west of Brisbane, Elizabeth Marchant and Georgie Walker raise funds by hosting a barbecue every month at the Royal Hotel Eromanga. They also pick up the flying doctor nurses from the airport and give them smoko. Elizabeth also manages the care of the local RFDS clinic building and helps buy medical supplies. She can't remember when they started doing this, but it was some time ago.

Winton's Sandy Gillies works as the executive manager for the Western Queensland Primary Health Network, and her local knowledge was instrumental in ensuring those worst affected by recent floods in that area received the help and the care they needed. It was the Mount Isa quartet, Jim Lillecrapp, Simon Steele, and Robert and Belinda Worlein, who were the first responders to a boating accident at Lake Julius on Christmas Eve last year. Their fast, calm, caring and skilful assistance meant that the family involved in the accident were able to receive the best quality care as quickly as possible, and they are clear that the terrible outcome that would have happened without this care was avoided.

In Central Queensland, Alison Hodda has been one of the most hardworking and dedicated fundraisers, supporting the RFDS for almost 25 years. She volunteers at events in Biloela and across the Banana Shire and sells cross-stitch craft to raise funds. Further south, Andrea Crothers, Tessa Dimond, Annie Jones and Jess Weber have joined forces to raise over $55,000 for the service through the Golden Acres Ball in St George, 440 kilometres west of Brisbane. In my home area of North Queensland, the Richmond Field Days and Turf Club Committee have raised thousands of dollars for the RFDS, supported health checks and raised awareness for the service in their local community. One couple who help drive the committee's success are club secretary, Patsy Fox, and her husband, David, who were instrumental in the disaster response when the Queensland floods devastated the region this year. The pair set up a disaster management centre at Richmond Airport and provided shelter, safety and peace of mind to those affected. These people and so many others deserve our respect and gratitude for keeping this important service intact.

I just have to tell you that on Saturday night they announced the finalist of this group of these incredible volunteers, and it was the Mount Isa quartet. They are called the Lake Julius Jewels—I think that's right. They won the award for this year for the most outstanding service to the Royal Flying Doctor Service. I urge everyone to support this lifesaving work and to remember that without it the tyranny of distance in outback Australia would be that little bit further. They truly make a huge difference.