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Mental health funding announcement: speech, Burnie, Tasmania.

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2 May 2007



Well thank you very much Vice Chancellor, my federal parliamentary colleague Mark Baker, other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen and most particularly the future doctors of Australia. It’s great to see so many young, enthusiastic faces involved in rural medicine. And I thank you very much Vice Chancellor for your remarks about the initiatives that have led to such a growth in the capacity of the

university sector here in Tasmania. I have often said that one of the things that our country does well, and this is a general comment that has applied through the years, one of the things that our country does very well is get a good balance between the

public and the private sector contributions to challenging and dealing with problems. In many countries there is a perennial argument as to whether everything should be done by the Government or everything should be done by the private sector. But one of the genius things about Australia is that rather than try and resolve that one way or

another, we have said why don’t we seek contributions from both and why don’t we achieve a balance? And that is on display at this wonderful centre. You have the public hospital, you have the private hospital, you have the partnership involving the university and you have an involvement of the Federal Government as well, of course, in relation to many of the obligations of health services, the involvement of the state government as well. And we have achieved that balance and I think that’s a wonderful thing.

But the most uplifting thing to me today is the opportunity to meet so many young medical students, to hear their enthusiasm about the opportunity of learning something about rural and regional medicine. It’s not just a question of young people who have grown up in this or indeed any other regional area of Australia being able to come back and do their training and their early practice years in the place where they grew up, but it also is an opportunity, as one of the students said to me, an opportunity to understand that there are features of rural medicine and there are rural health challenges that don’t exist in other parts of the country. And we all know, for 1

example, and this will bring me into the purpose of my announcement, we all know that there has been a terrible drought across most of Australia and Tasmania has not escaped it.

Many Australians who come from the mainland tend to always have this fixed view about ever-green, ever-wet, sometimes, Tasmania and it’s completely wrong. And it’s a complete misconception of the way in which the drought has affected this part of Australia. And, of course, in its wake the drought has brought terrible mental health challenges for farmers and for people involved in remoter parts of the country. And the stories are legion of the way in which farmers and people on the land have felt totally overcome and totally destroyed and overwhelmed by the endless days of dry and the endless horizon getting dustier and dustier and the opportunity of ever planting a crop again seeming to disappear, and that has brought enormous challenges.

So that really does bring me to the purpose of my announcement today and let me say that last year the Federal Government felt that more resources had to be put into tackling mental health problems around Australia and I announced a commitment of $1.9 billion in April of last year. And progressively; and that’s for the whole country and it covers a whole lot of things including the introduction of Medicare items for treating mental illness, a first, long overdue, should have been done years ago, but now it has been done it’s been very rapidly utilised and clearly there is a need for it and it’s a need that is now more widely talked about and widely recognised.

But one of the components of that program was an initiative of $51 million for mental health services in rural and remote areas and today I am announcing here in Burnie a grant of $1 million for additional mental health services in the north west region of Tasmania reaching from Devonport to King Island and along the West Coast. And General Practice North West, led, I think, by Doctor Nick Barnes is going to preside over that and it will provide these new mental health services. There will be additional mental health workers based at Burnie and they’ll provide a mental health outreach service throughout north west Tasmania including in Devonport. It will include allied health and mental health nursing professionals such as psychologists, social workers or mental health nurses. North west, north coast Tasmania as I mentioned earlier has suffered from the drought and they’ve experienced record low rainfall in the 12 months ending March of this year and the link that I’ve already mentioned between drought and increased depression and mental illness will be very much in the forefront of a lot of the work that this new service will do.

These new services will help farmers as well as rural communities who are under increasing stress from the drought. Can I say that this announcement I’m making today is the very first of a whole series of announcements under this subset of the major program and there’ll be a number of announcements made all around the country by the Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing, Senator Mason, but this is the very first of them in that program. It’s an additional provision of a million dollars for mental health services in the north west region of Tasmania and it will be operated by Dr Barnes and his colleagues. I know they’ll do it well and it will add to the array of medical services that are available in this part of Tasmania. But can I conclude by congratulating all of those associated with the medical services that are now being provided here in Burnie and to express again my pleasure at the success 2

that is apparently being achieved in providing a first rate training for young medical students who aspire to serve their profession in rural medicine. It’s a need in this country, it’s a desperate need. It’s become harder and harder to use the vernacular to get doctors to go bush and to go to the country and the contribution that, what the university is doing and what this centre is doing to meeting that problem is quite inspiring and it encourages me greatly. I want to thank the university and I want to thank everybody associated with this centre and the collaboration that it represents between the public sector and the private sector, that balance, that commonsense Australian balance which characterises our response to so many of these things. My final comment is to wish the young men and women who are here as medical students today every good fortune in your profession and the contribution that I know you will make to Australian society in the years ahead. Thank you.

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