Assistant Minister for Rural and Regional Health - Speech - 17 April 2024

Read Assistant Minister McBride's speech for the graduating College of Health, Medicine, and Wellbeing students at the University of Newcastle.

The Hon Emma McBride MP
Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention
Assistant Minister Rural and Regional Health

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I’d like to begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to Elders past and present

I acknowledge all First Nations Australians here today

The Hon. Patricia Forsythe, Chancellor

Professor Alex Zelinsky, Vice-Chancellor

Staff of the University

To the graduating students, your families and supporters – congratulations

It’s a privilege to speak to our next generation of health workers.

It makes me even prouder to know that you have studied and trained here at Ourimbah on the Central Coast.

Many of you, I hope, will stay and practice in this region. Many will go on to adventures around Australia and abroad and I wish you well.

Times have changed for the better since I was in your shoes.

Having grown up in Wyong I had to go to Sydney in order to study pharmacy.

I’m grateful for the education I received, it gave me the skills to work overseas and then at Wyong Hospital for 10 years before being elected to parliament.

But it’s so important to see a broad range of health qualifications available to students outside capital cities.

Among the graduates today we have nursing, sports science, oral health and podiatry, all are important specialities for thriving regional communities.

This campus I see as one of the Central Coast’s great assets.

The name ‘Ourimbah’ derives its meaning from ‘ceremonial meeting ground’ which is fitting given why we’re all here today.

Opened in 1995 by Governor General Bill Hayden, this campus is unique – home to the University of Newcastle, TAFE, Central Coast Community College and local businesses and organisations.

My friend and former Member for Dobell, Michael Lee, describes this campus as one of the great achievements for our region.

Less than 2 in 10 people on the Central Coast have a university education, compared to more than 1 in 3 across Greater Sydney.

It might surprise you to know that more than half of domestic students at the University of Newcastle are the first in their family to go to university.

The opportunities extend down the road with the Central Coast Clinical School, which gives students the opportunity to train in real hospital settings, alongside leading practitioners and medical experts. 

And the adjacent Central Coast Research Institute, where leading experts embed research into student learning.

I acknowledge the University of Newcastle for its contribution to higher education here at Ourimbah and look forward to it continuing and evolving in the years ahead.

Graduates, as you enter a new chapter in your lives, I hope you have time to reflect on the journey that has brought you to this moment.

You have already shown real resilience, having studied through the worst of the Covid pandemic.

Most of you have held down jobs while studying, cared for loved ones… life can be hectic as a student.

I hope that today the countless hours spent studying, the clinical placements and supervision, all feel worth it.

More than that, I know you’ll have memories and friends for life as I do, from those people sitting around you.

As you transition from students to professionals, each of you will become a vital part of our healthcare system, entrusted with the health and wellbeing of others.

You also need to look after yourselves.

So I thought I would just share a few reflections on mental health in Australia right now which might be useful, both in your work with patients and in your lives more broadly.

The Australian Government is very conscious of the mental health of Australia’s young people.

There is disagreement on exactly how your generation compares to those before or after you but it’s widely accepted that young Australians are experiencing increasing psychological distress.

Some of this is normal and much of it resolves with the support of family and friends, and with time.

One thing our country has done well is to de-stigmatise mental health so that people feel more comfortable to talk about it.

There are some effective self-help resources online, artificial intelligence is entering the field and this early intervention, low-intensity part of the system offers us great potential to support more people in more places.

When people need more professional support, of course, we need to make sure the healthcare system is in place to provide it, and that is the biggest focus for me as Assistant Minister for Mental Health.

Services like headspace, the adult equivalent of Head to Health, psychology appointments under Medicare and the new Head to Health Kids Hubs.

Some of you might come to know this system well in your professional lives but even those who don’t, I hope you have a confidence that it’s there when you or your patients need it.

One piece of work which will start soon goes to system navigation and making it easier for individuals, parents, and health professionals, to navigate our mental healthcare system – particularly online – and find the right supports.

The other key point here goes to the social determinants of health and the protective factors which we need to have in place for strong communities.

Universal access to quality healthcare is a key one – physical and mental health are deeply intertwined.

Equally, measures of financial security, housing, women’s safety, employment, climate change are all key factors in the mental health of our society.

Our government is working across these areas because we know how important they are to the health and wellbeing of future generations.

I hope as you move into your professional lives you feel confident that areas are heading in the right direction and, of course, please engage with me and other representatives where you think we can do better.

Congratulations once again to the graduates of 2024.

As you embark on your career, may you carry with you the knowledge that you are equipped with the skills, resilience, and compassion to succeed in your respective professions.

Whether you find yourselves at the bedside, in the lab or advocating for policy change, remember the profound impact you can make for individuals and communities.

Remember the support of your families, the guidance of your mentors, and the strength of your community as you navigate the challenges and celebrate the triumphs that lie ahead.

Thank you and congratulations.

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