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Thank you, Vice Chancellor for your welcome and the opportunity to be here today.
I’d like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet – the Yirriganydji, Djabugay and Yidinji peoples. I extend that respect to all First Nations People who are here with us today, and pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging.
In doing so, I recognise the disparity in access to healthcare and health outcomes of First Nations people, especially in remote communities, which is why I’m proud to be part of a government that’s committed to implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart, in full. First Nations people having a say in the policies and programs that impact them is the only way we will see real change.
I’d also like to thank Vice Chancellor Professor Simon Biggs for his words on regional education and employment for health care professionals. It is something that is top of mind for our Government.
To everyone at JCU, the faculty and the students for your commitment to improving the health outcomes of those living in rural, regional, and remote communities. To those that do or intend to practice in North Queensland I extend a special thanks.
As you commence your first year of medical training at James Cook University, you will be part of a significant investment in the future of health care in regional Australia.
Our regions are essential to our nation’s identity, and our economy. And the home to millions of Australians. At the same time, people living in rural, regional and remote Australia consistently experience poorer health, with those living in the most remote areas demonstrating the worst health outcomes.
Outside of our capital cities it is harder to see a doctor, a psychologist or get into a hospital bed. Care is too often out of reach - unaffordable, and inaccessible - and too late.
Recently I helped launch the RFDS Best for the Bush, Rural and Remote Health Base Line Report which showed women living in very remote parts of Australia were likely to die 19 years earlier than their city counterparts.
It also found that those living in very remote areas are 2.8 times more likely to be hospitalised.
These figures are stark, but sadly not surprising and we must turn them around. And, a big part of that is you - our future health workforce.
We know educating, and training health practitioners outside of big cities is the first step towards a stronger regional health workforce.
The Albanese Government is proud to be funding 20 Commonwealth Supported Medical Training Places at JCU.
We are also funding the establishment of training infrastructure, under the Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training program.
Growing medical training in Cairns and across rural and regional Australia will improve access to medical services for people living in local communities.
Cairns is a beautiful part of the world and, for those who have come from other parts of our country to study here, I encourage you to be open to pursuing your career and continuing training in North Queensland.
We know that maximising rural clinical training opportunities leads to students being far more likely to choose to practise in rural and regional communities.
When you spend an extended period of time in our communities, for example the six years it takes to complete a medical degree, then you often chose to stay. You give back. And that community becomes your community.
And this does more than just provide improved health care. It improves the educational, economic and social outcomes of the community. It also helps those Australians most in need.
Our funding for JCU does two things, it establishes a long-term pipeline to boost the medical workforce in Northern Queensland which will in turn improve the health outcomes of North Queenslanders.
To commencing students - congratulations – I encourage you to study hard and make to most of this opportunity to learn. And to take the time to explore the region, get to know the community and the unique lifestyle of for north Queensland. Cairns is the gateway to the region, make the most of that opportunity.
It is my aim, and the Australian Government’s aim, to see better access to healthcare around Australia, and that means to have the right practitioners in the right place at the right time.
High quality rural health training will improve the supply and distribution of the medical workforce and provide enormously rewarding careers.
As a specialist mental health pharmacist and former director of pharmacy in a NSW coastal community, I can absolutely recommend living and working in regional communities.
That is why our Government invests in the Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training and its precursors. This is where you and medical students like you around Australia come in.
As you enter the workforce, you will help to change the workforce, you will improve access and quality of care, here in the Cairns region, and hopefully in other regional, rural and remote areas too. When you live and work in a community like this you will make a difference.
I wish you the very best.