Thank you for inviting me to today’s Rural and Regional Hearing Healthcare Workforce Summit.
I wish to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we are all attending from today, and pay my respects to their Elders past and present. I extend that respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples attending today.
As the Minister for Regional Health, I am delighted to be included in this important event, which has been funded under the Australian Government’s $21.2 million investment towards priority actions identified under the Roadmap for Hearing Health.
The Australian Government is committed to bridging the city-country divide in health services.
We want to ensure that people living and working in rural and remote Australia have better access to essential health services to improve long-term health outcomes.
I appreciate the difficulty some rural communities face in attracting and retaining health professionals.
Having been a regional doctor for over 30 years, I’ve seen it first-hand.
That’s why we are investing to improve access to health services for Australians living in regional, rural and remote communities, and building the capacity and distribution of Australia’s health workforce.
Our 10-year $550 million Stronger Rural Health Strategy, an additional $123 million for rural workforce measures, and the National Medical Workforce Strategy we launched last year, are about improving people’s health through the supply of a quality primary health workforce distributed across the country according to community need.
A range of workforce support programs, including the More Doctors for Rural Australia Program, Development of a Self-Regulated Health Profession Certification and Registration Scheme, which will include audiologists and speech pathologists, and rural-focused training programs for GPs, rural generalists, specialists, junior doctors, and allied health workers – are all aimed at increasing access to services, and addressing long-standing rural workforce challenges.
As well, there are additional investments in outreach health services, the Royal Flying Doctors Service, innovative primary care models, our landmark Office of the National Rural Health Commissioner, the Nurses in Primary Health Care Program, and the Rural Locum Assistance Program.
Newly introduced initiatives such as telehealth, including a new Medicare item from this month to support the remote programming of auditory implants and sound processors, and increased rural bulk billing incentives, will also be of major benefit to regional and rural patients.
An important factor I’m sure you will consider over the course of this summit is the changing demographics of our population, particularly as this relates to people’s hearing.
The Australian population is ageing at an unprecedented rate. Alongside this, the number of older people living in regional and remote areas is growing.
Most people needing hearing health services are within this demographic.
Clearly then, rural and regional Australia will continue to be a major focus of the Australian Government’s Hearing Services Program.
Many of you here today will be well aware of the program, and indeed help contribute to its success.
In 2020-21, this program invested over half-a-billion dollars to help more than 885,000 people.
The program has 300 providers that deliver services in around 3,000 locations across Australia.
The Australian Government is a strong supporter of this network. We rely on it to ensure people living in regional Australia get the vital hearing support they need.
The Australian Government’s commitment to improving rural and regional health services are making real differences to rural and regional Australians.
During this summit, I hope you can draw upon this – both in terms of your own sector and also the broader health sector – as you consider future needs specific to the hearing health workforce.
I thank Audiology Australia for hosting this summit. It is important and it is timely.
I also thank all of you for your commitment to improving Australia’s hearing health outcomes, especially those living outside metropolitan areas.
I wish you a productive two days of collaboration and look forward to learning about the outcome of your deliberations.
I also look forward to continuing the conversation with you – and working together to further improve the hearing health outcomes of people living in regional and remote Australia.