News Parliament

FEDERATION CHAMBER - BILLS - HEALTH PORTFOLIO

One of the most exciting elements of the budget for people in central western New South Wales was the announcement of the Murray-Darling medical schools network. The Murray-Darling medical school proposal has been sought and pushed and advocated for by people in central and western New South Wales for about 10 years. Why have they felt so strongly about it? Why have we felt so strongly about it? The answer is simple: it's because country people die younger than people in the city. That's just the way it is. That's the cold hard truth of the situation: country people die younger than city people. Their health outcomes are worse at just about every single level. People in country communities know what it's like to go without medical services of all varieties. We know what it's like to not have enough doctors. In some of our country communities you can wait weeks or months just to see a GP, let alone a specialist. When existing GPs retire or move town, often there's no-one there to replace them.

So there has been a huge groundswell of support for the Murray-Darling medical schools network. The concept is very simple: to train doctors in the bush for practice in the bush, as they are doing at James Cook University in North Queensland, with about 80 per cent of places to be quarantined for country students. The idea is that if you take country people, if you train them in the country, they're more likely to stay in the country when they graduate. Indeed, Charles Sturt University has proved this to be true with their many other courses. We have toured their various campuses and faculties, and when you speak to the students, for example in pharmacy or dentistry, the ones from the country invariably say, 'When we graduate we're going back to the bush'. Indeed, if you look at the country workforce in New South Wales, 70 per cent of accountants in inland New South Wales are Charles Sturt University graduates. That's an amazing figure. So Charles Sturt University is literally training the next generation. It's training a country workforce. They have proved that this works across their health faculties and health services, but also with their new faculties such as engineering.

I would like to pay tribute to all of our members of the community who have fought so hard for a new medical school in central western New South Wales. Those folks have come from all walks of life. The support has been widespread from people in local government, from local councils, from Centroc, from groups like the Country Women's Association, the mighty CWA. There have also been a number of doctors, many in fact, who have supported this proposal. They haven't been as vocal as others have, but they have been there, nevertheless, working away, offering support and guidance. I think the result, this whole new medical school network, is something that will truly be a game changer for the practice of medicine in country New South Wales and country Australia. I think it will change the way medicine is practised in country New South Wales and country Australia, because in our part of the world you are going to have a curriculum specifically tailored for practice in the bush. We are training doctors in the bush for practice in the bush. It's a very simple concept, but one we've been fighting for for many years now. I've been pushing for this for as long as I've been in politics, which is since 2011. In fact, I mentioned it in my inaugural speech to the New South Wales parliament in 2011 as being something I'd like to see. It has been a true community effort, and I would like to pay tribute to everyone who's supported the cause.

My question to the minister is: can the minister please tell the chamber how the Murray-Darling medical school network came about and how it will affect the lives of people living in rural Australia? Before I close, can I also thank the minister for all of his hard work on this project. He got it over the line with the help of his ministerial colleagues, and we're very grateful.