Good morning and thank you Mary Lalios for your kind introduction.
I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of this land and pay my respects to Elders past and present.
I also extend that respect to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who may be present here today.
I am delighted to be here today among so many of you who work tirelessly for your local communities.
And I am very honoured to be here as the Deputy Leader of the National Party and Australia’s Minister for Rural Health, Minister for Sport and Minister for Regional Communications.
The work you and I undertake complements and intersects in many ways and, I think, stems from the basic tenet that everyone across the length and breadth of this country deserves a fair go.
As a born and bred country Victorian, I am so proud to represent the seven million Australians who live in rural, regional and remote areas of our country, many of whom you also represent.
The theme of the National General Assembly this year is Australia’s Future: Make It Local. The Nationals understand that the people living in country areas make an enormous contribution to our nation – our economy, our culture, and our national character.
The Coalition will to work with you all to ensure that people at a local regional level are getting the same access to services and infrastructure as those living in our capital cities.
In my own portfolio areas this means:
– High quality health services, including access to a quality GP when your family needs it.
– Being active and participating in sport through access to new sport funding opportunities, including at your local playing field where communities come together to kick the footy around.
– Access to reliable and high speed broadband and mobile and telecommunication services so local businesses can continue to grow and prosper.
These are just some of the issues that I know are at the forefront for your local communities. And I would like to use my time with you today to explain just how committed the Coalition Government is to changing their lives for the better.
A new era for regional health
Last month, the Australian Government handed down a Budget which included the historic Stronger Rural Health Strategy. It is transformational for the regions.
Through a carefully calibrated, interconnected package of measures this Strategy will give all Australians access to the right mix of qualified health professionals in the right place, at the right time.
As many of you are aware, addressing inequities in access to high quality healthcare has been a long standing challenge in Australia. Many Governments – Federal, State as well as local – have supported many programs, particularly in regards to the number of doctors and other health professionals in rural areas.
Some of these well intentioned programs have been overly complex, less effective than anticipated, and some have had unintended consequences, such as significant growth in primary care doctors without full specialist qualifications, and some doctor oversupply in major cities, with projections suggesting an oversupply of 7,000 by 2030.
As everyone in this room knows – the problem is not solved. There is a maldistribution of the health workforce that is felt in rural and remote areas.
That’s why we’ve hit the reset button and have changed our approach to address each and every stage of medical workforce supply through better teaching, training, and retention.
This Strategy will put more highly qualified doctors – particularly more Australian trained doctors – into areas of workforce shortage, especially rural and remote locations.
It will deliver 3,000 additional doctors, more than 3,000 additional nurses in rural practise and hundreds of additional allied health professionals in the regions over the next ten years.
It supports nurses and allied health professionals playing a greater role and will deliver more multidisciplinary, team based models of primary health care.
There is an abundance of evidence that shows that, the longer a person spends teaching and training in the regions, the more likely they are to choose a long term career in these locations.
As such, we are establishing the new Murray-Darling Medical Schools Network. The new end-to-end medical school program will give local students the opportunity to stay in their communities while they study and train, and provide supervised medical services to rural patients. Currently most medical students undertake the majority of their study and training in our capital cities and may do a clinical rotation in the regions.
By flipping the current training model we are transforming our approach to growing our doctors locally in the regions.
Rural communities will benefit from the network’s end-to-end rural medical school programs through medical student and trainee services, a larger university presence and associated infrastructure.
It takes a long time to grow a doctor. That’s why we are also investing in all aspects of the medical training pipeline including in junior doctor training and specialist training through this exciting package.
And for short term there are a range of measures to support recruitment and retention of health professionals in the regions.
Our work is certainly not complete, but this Strategy will address the imbalance and establishes a platform from which we can continue to build on.
Staying connected across the country
In my travels throughout country areas, one of the key issues raised by local communities, including local governments, is access to reliable and effective 21st century communications.
It is essential for everyday life, for business, for local jobs and the future prosperity of regional communities.
I am very proud to be part of a Government that has made a deliberate decision to invest more into regional and remote communications than ever before.
– We're investing around $2.1 billion in capital expenditure on nbn's fixed wireless network to better connect our regions.
– Almost $1.9 billion has been invested to deliver nbn's satellite network to connect even the most remote places in our vast country.
– These investments are in addition to nbn’s construction of the network to the 70 per cent of premises in regional areas that will receive fixed line NBN services.
I’m sure we have representatives from the Gippsland region here today – a region very close to my heart.
You may be interested to know that in your region alone, access to the NBN is expected to generate up to 960 new businesses and up to 4,170 additional digital jobs by 2021.
Access to the NBN will allow Australians to enjoy the benefits of living in regional areas while accessing global business opportunities.
nbn continues to work on specialised products designed to better meet the needs of particular users.
This includes nbn trialling multicast services for distance education, mobility services with potential use for emergency services and products for business that will better support activities that require symmetrical services, such as video conferencing.
nbn is also partnering with the Royal Flying Doctor Service to provide broadband connectivity through the Sky Muster satellites to support this essential service to Royal Flying Doctor bases and 300 remote area clinics.
The partnership will also help to improve the health of regional and remote Australians through the use of Telehealth services, which allows patients to videoconference with specialists and doctors all across the country.
In addition, a variety of trials are being undertaken to support the transmission of vital real time medical information on the ground and while on the move.
The NBN Sky Muster is making a revolutionary difference to thousands of people living, working and visiting regional and remote Australia.
The Coalition has also committed $220 million through the Mobile Black Spot Program to address mobile coverage issues across Australia.
Not a single cent has been committed by Labor who falsely claims to back the regions.
Nationally, the program rollout is well and truly past the halfway mark, with 534 base stations now fully operational with all 867 base stations due to be activated by the end of the year.
And I was very pleased to recently announce a $25 million fourth round of the Mobile Black Spot Program.
The program was set up to improve mobile coverage across the country, particularly in areas where it isn’t commercially viable for mobile carriers to invest.
I’ve attended several launches of new base stations funded through the program and there is a great sense of excitement from local communities as these towers are being switched on.
It makes such a difference that people can now be connected – both professionally and personally.
I know, for example, that workers in the Barmount Feedlot near Clarke Creek in Queensland can now access market reports and other information remotely rather than needing to travel back to the office. This is something many people in the cities take for granted.
And for those travelling through less populated towns, perhaps in some of your local government areas, people can feel just a bit safer knowing emergency services are easier to contact.
Today, it is both a social and economic imperative for all Australians to have access to the 21st century communications that will enable them to participate fully in our digital world.
This is why it is a Government priority to connect regional communities and businesses. It is transformational, and opens up new opportunities locally, nationally and globally.
You may run a cattle station in Cape York, homeschool your kids in the Pilbara or run a small business in Broken Hill. ,
Regardless of where you live or work, each and every Australian deserves to be “connected”.
And in conjunction with broader Coalition policy achievements, such as multiple free trade agreements, our investment in agriculture or our defence industry plan, the future truly is exciting for regional Australia.
Backing a healthier Australia
Moving to my other portfolio, each and every day I thank the Prime Minister for making me the Minister for Sport in the greatest sporting nation on earth.
I’ve always been an avid athlete and sports fan, but before I entered politics, I was a sports scientist and physical education teacher.
Everyone here today knows how integral sport is to our local communities, especially in the regions. The local cricket club, footy club or netball association give so much back to our communities and towns, mostly backed by an army of volunteers.
Sport underpins the social fabric of communities, our way of life. It is important for our health and wellbeing.
I’m passionate about getting more Australians more active, more often.
I am working to finalise a National Sports Plan which will showcase a long-term vision for Australian sport across grass-roots participation, high performance, sports integrity, and sports diplomacy. I will have more to say on the Sports Plan very soon.
This year’s Budget took the first steps in a plan to re-energise sport at the grassroots level – $229.9 million is being invested over five years in a suite of programs that get more Australians, more active, more often.
Of particular interest to many is a $29.7 million community infrastructure grants program announced in the Budget, particularly those of you with ageing or unsuitable sports facilities in your care.
We know that much of the existing community sport infrastructure is based on historical footprints. It doesn’t meet current demographics, modern community needs, interests or requirements.
We also know that often simple improvements like lighting or expanded change room facilities – particularly for women and girls – improve participation and lead to heathier and more active lifestyles.
These infrastructure grants – available through the Australian Sports Commission – will fund small to medium size projects, particularly improvements to existing sports facilities.
Grants up to to $500,000 will be available for community based sporting organisations at a local club or regional association level, and, of course, local government.
The grants guidelines will be released shortly, and I would encourage every Council across Australia to look at applying.
The Government’s focus and investment in regional Australia is unwavering.
And we will continue to work with local government – and ALGA – to support communities across Australia.
We will continue to take a holistic approach to improving health outcomes in regional areas.
We will continue to invest in regional and remote communications.
We will continue to back Australia as a sporting nation.
We will continue to tackle physical inactivity