MATT DORAN, HOST: Specialist treatment for ailments like cancer, the travel to metropolitan centres places an immense toll on individuals and their families, particularly when children are involved. The Federal Government has announced further funding today for one service aiming to make the process a little easier. The Assistant Minister for Rural and Regional Health, Emma McBride, joined us from Bankstown Airport earlier. Emma McBride, welcome to Afternoon Briefing. A very important announcement that you’ve been at Bankstown Airport for today. Talk us through what we’ve learnt.
EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: I’m so pleased to be here at Bankstown Airport for the official launch of the fourth plane in the Little Wings fleet. Little Wings has been flying for 10 years out of its home in Bankstown Airport and the Commonwealth has invested $1.8 million in a new plane. Little Wings has seen a big surge in demand for their services and what this plane will mean, is an extra 800 missions a year, flying critically ill children and their families to care at major Sydney hospitals and getting them safely home again.
DORAN: And right on cue, a plane going overhead. You said there that there has been a surge in demand for Little Wings services. What’s that been put down to?
MCBRIDE: This increase in demand, according to Little Wings CEO Clare Pearson, is that demand has always been there but now that people are aware of the service and the increase in capacity of it, that more people are seeking it out. What it means, is that young children like Bella that I met from Kempsey today and her mum Crystal were able to have treatment at Westmead Hospital but also make it safely home to be with her three siblings and her father at really important times of her recovery. So, this service will mean more than 800 additional missions will be able to be flown a year with Little Wings flying everyday of the year, such an important service for critically ill children, their brothers and sisters, and their families.
DORAN: Clearly there is always going to be a concentration of those sort of specialist services in our larger cities and you mentioned there, Isabelle who is being treated at Westmead Children’s Hospital Sydney and making that trip from Kempsey. How do you strike that balance between funding services like this to get people to those specialist services and ensuring there are those specialist medical services in rural and regional communities as well.
MCBRIDE: It is something that is so important, we know that in Australia today, the further that you live outside of a major city, the worse your health outcomes are likely to be and a big part of that is access to care. So, with responsibilities in regional health, and having worked most of my working life in a regional hospital, we know that at the same time as providing critical medical airflight services that are needed for children that need support from a tertiary hospital, but at the same time that we fund care within regional communities. That big boost in Medicare funding will come into effect 1 November, tripling the bulk billing incentive so that people can get into to see a GP. Often the first port of call for a family with a child who is ill, seeking support and care from GPs. So, you’re right whilst we invest in these important medical retrieval services for critically ill children at the same time, we need to make sure the services are available for Australians wherever they live including, in the most remote parts of our country.
DORAN: Little Wings operate across NSW, QLD, the ACT, but there are other similar services in operation in other parts of the country. What sorts of funding goes from the Commonwealth to them?
MCBRIDE: So, we’ve seen through Little Wings, this is a more than $4.5 million investment over 5 years and $1.8 million for this fixed wing aircraft and the Commonwealth does make significant investment in the other medical retrieval services including the Royal Flying Doctors Service to make sure Australians wherever they live can get the right support and care. It’s something we are proud to do, we know it is so important, especially to children and families.
DORAN: You’ve just wrapped up a fortnight of parliamentary sittings here in Canberra and clearly a big part of the debate over the past fortnight has been the Indigenous Voice to Parliament. You are also the Assistant Minister for Mental Health, what do you make of the tone of the debate coming from our nation’s politicians and what effect that may well be having on the mental health, not only Indigenous Australians, but everyone who is invested in this campaign.
MCBRIDE: Well just this week, Minister Linda Burney and I had another meeting with the crisis lines: Lifeline, Beyond Blue, 13 YARN, and Kids Helpline to get a sense of the calls they’re receiving and the nature of those calls. What we know and what we’ve heard, is that there is an increase in distress amongst First Nations people and what is so important is that the tone of this debate is one that is respectful. This is a once in a generation chance to accept the generous offer of First Nations people to listen to them, to genuinely hear them, and I can think of no better example than in health care. Particularly, in mental health and suicide prevention. In Australia today First Nations people die by suicide at twice the rate of non-indigenous Australians. I was with Education Minister Jason Clare earlier today and he has consistently said that if you’re a young indigenous man you are more likely to end up in jail than at university. There are no better examples than in health, education, housing, and employment, of the need to accept the generous offer of our First Nations people and I encourage everybody to participate in this debate in a respectful way that is culturally safe and helps us to be able to walk towards a very generous offer for reconciliation and unification for our country.
DORAN: Linda Burney has today said that in the last couple of months or so, her office has been inundated with racist abuse, is this a situation that was ever foreseen as the government was thinking about going forward with this process for a referendum? Was it foreseen that the Australian community would react in such a way?
MCBRIDE: Well, what we had hoped initially that the Opposition would join with us as happened in 1967 in the referendum and that there would be a unified position from the Parliament to the people of Australia. I was with Minister Linda Burney yesterday and some of what Linda Burney has experienced is what other First Nations people are experiencing and, in the Budget, we made an investment of over $10 million towards the right kind of mental health support and care for First Nations people. At the moment, that money is funnelling through to people and services on the ground so that we can give people the right sort of support and care. But as I said earlier this is a generous offer of our First Nations people, it is a once in a generation opportunity to bridge that gap, to unify and bring our country together and there is no better example than in health and particularly mental health and suicide prevention, of the need to listen to First Nations people, to genuinely hear them, and to see better results to close the gap.
DORAN: You mention there specifically the stance the Opposition has taken in this debate. Are you accusing the Opposition of fuelling this sort of racist abuse.
MCBRIDE: What I would encourage everybody to do whether it’s a Member of Parliament, a member of the local community, to engage in this debate whatever their perspective in a respectful way. We have a healthy and strong democracy in Australia and it’s important that people can have their say and I would encourage everybody to do that in a respectful way that is culturally safe, and I will be showing my respect by voting yes in October.
DORAN: So, in encouraging people to show that respect, are you suggesting that Members of the Opposition aren’t doing that and are therefore fuelling what we’ve been seeing over the past couple of days or so.
MCBRIDE: I would encourage all Members of Parliament and everybody in communities, in these conversations right around Australia in the four weeks as we lead up to this referendum. To speak respectfully, to be empathetic, and to approach things in a culturally safe way. I have been working very closely with First Nations communities and service providers and what they’re telling me is that they want to see a Voice, that they want to be properly heard, so that we can have a chance to reconcile and to really close that gap particularly in health and the stark health outcomes and the yawning gap that’s experienced by First Nations people. This is our chance as a parliament and more importantly as a society and as a nation to close that gap in a real and meaningful way.
DORAN: Emma McBride, thank you.
MCBRIDE: Thanks for your time.