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Wednesday, 14 October 2015
Page: 7628

Allied Health Scholarships

Senator WANG (Western Australia) (14:26): My question without notice is to the Minister for Rural Health, Minister Nash. The minister would be aware of the valuable support and policy work carried out by the Services for Australian Rural and Remote Allied Health, SARRAH. This organisation has a grassroots membership, and this is the focus of my question. Why would the scholarship funding administered by SARRAH be cut from $11.4 million to $7.2 million per annum, given that allied health has always been underrepresented in the financial provision of scholarships?

Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate and Minister for Rural Health) (14:27): I thank Senator Wang for his question. I am a great supporter of the work of SARRAH. Indeed, just this week, I was very privileged to be at a dinner that they were holding for one of the young people who have been a beneficiary of one of their internal scholarships. There is absolutely no doubt that allied health is incredibly important when it comes to health service delivery in rural and regional areas, and indeed it was a discussion that I was having with them just a couple of days ago.

But we do have to be mindful as the government that our scholarships are appropriate, efficient and well targeted. So, across a range of areas at the moment, we are reviewing the scholarship arrangements. We need to make sure that the taxpayers' dollars that we are responsible for are effectively spent and efficiently spent. It certainly does not detract from the work that SARRAH do. Indeed, as I have said, they prosecute the case very well for allied health services across our rural and regional communities. But we as the government do have to be responsible. We have to make sure that we are managing the taxpayers' dollars that we are responsible for in a very efficacious and, as I say, responsible way. So we will be looking at SARRAH. We will be looking at things across a range of areas when it comes to scholarships to make sure they are targeted and giving us what we need, which is better health outcomes in rural and regional areas.

Senator WANG (Western Australia) (14:29): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Will the minister review the decision to tender out the administration of these scholarships from next year, given that SARRAH is a professionally run not-for-profit organisation and has an inherent support mechanism, given its large and active professional membership?

Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate and Minister for Rural Health) (14:29): No, I am not going to give that commitment. What I will do is say that, broadly, this government is going to make sure that the scholarships we fund deliver what we need—that is, better health outcomes across rural and regional areas. We will make some decisions on that basis that are going to be financially sound, and, at the same time, we will make sure that we deliver for rural and regional communities the health services that they need. I am well aware of the importance of allied health out in our rural and regional communities. Indeed, there has been a lot of discussion recently around multidisciplinary teams in rural and regional areas and around how we need to have our allied health professionals working with our GPs collectively to make sure we deliver those health outcomes in the rural and regional communities.

Senator WANG (Western Australia) (14:30): Mr President, I ask a final supplementary question. I will offer two examples of allied health scholarships at work in remote Western Australian communities: first, a placement at the Kimberley mental health service in Broome; and, second, an occupational therapy placement at Kununurra that has led to an ongoing working relationship in that community. How will the minister, whilst improving the efficiency of the scholarships, maintain or retain positive results like these?

Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate and Minister for Rural Health) (14:31): As somebody from a regional community, who spends every day working with people out in these communities—

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: On my left.

Senator NASH: I am absolutely focused on positive results unlike those opposite, who clearly do not have enough respect for the issue to listen to the question that Senator Wang asked and to listen to the answer. Unlike those opposite, it is the coalition government that is focused on rural and regional communities. I can indicate to the senator my absolute commitment to ensuring that we get those positive results that Senator Wang was talking about.

Senator Lines interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Lines.

Senator NASH: And it is this coalition government that is going to do that in an economically responsible way while at the same time delivering those positive results for rural and regional communities.