Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s new look frontbench elevated Fiona Nash into Cabinet and, in turn, put rural health firmly on the federal agenda.
The New South Wales senator held the rural health portfolio before the reshuffle. She keeps that portfolio and also becomes Minister for Regional Development and Minister for Regional Communications.
The Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA) was quick to give Senator Nash a nod after the announcement was made, saying the appointment was “well deserved”.
The RDAA’s president Doctor Ewen McPhee endorsed the senator.
“She has demonstrated that she has a genuine desire to improve access to healthcare services in rural and remote Australia,” he said.
“She has also shown a real commitment to consulting health professionals working at the coalface of the rural health system, to ensure that policy decisions made by the Government will actually work in practice.”
High-level focus on rural issues ‘makes good sense’
As well as the increased responsibilities, Senator Nash became the first female deputy leader of the Nationals.
The senator’s new workload of three regionally focused portfolios “makes good sense”, according to the RDAA.
“Good regional communications, particularly reliable, high-capacity broadband, provide crucial support for the rural health sector, and the rural health sector is a critical element in underpinning regional development,” Dr McPhee said.
“Towns without rural health services find it hard to attract new workers, and thus new businesses and industries.”
“By putting each of these portfolios under the same minister, we expect to see a synergy in policy-making across all three sectors.”
The new frontbencher agrees.
Senator Nash told ABC Rural she had “very clear views around making sure we look after the people that are most disadvantaged across the rural and regional communities”.
“We’ve had some great things in place. Things like the Stronger Regions Fund which is enabling local communities to drive their own growth,” she said. “Also, I think it’s going to be important to look at the bigger picture, right across the country [and] what those drivers are that are going to ensure we have that economic growth and jobs growth in the regions.”
So, what will these changes mean for rural health?
Senator Nash is facing some tricky issues. As well as increasing the number of health services and practitioners, these are some of her top priorities in remote areas:
- Creating jobs
- Growing regional economies
- Reducing mobile blackspots
- Improving internet connectivity
- Providing more education opportunities
For the RDAA, Senator Nash’s appointments are a strong step forward for rural health
“While we continue to argue strongly that more needs to be done to ensure the future viability of the rural health system, … and that more also needs to be done to deliver the next generation of doctors to the bush, there have been some positive decisions taken and progress is being made,” Dr Mcphee said.