Radio interview with Assistant Minister McBride and Sam Robinson, ABC Riverina Breakfast - 4 October 2023

Read the transcript of the radio interview between Assistant Minister McBride and Sam Robinson on rural and regional health; NSW Birth Trauma Inquiry; mental health.

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

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SAM ROBINSON, HOST: We spoke earlier about driving being something to watch, but what about your health? It's of great interest to my next guest, Emma McBride, she's the Member for Dobell and also Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention and Assistant Minister for Regional and Rural Health. She's in the region. Emma McBride, good morning.

EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: Morning, Sam. Good to be with you.

ROBINSON: Let's start with something very close to the region. And that is the Birth Trauma Inquiry that's taking place in New South Wales at the moment. How concerned are you about what will come out of that?

MCBRIDE: It's a really important inquiry that is examining issues that are very close to the heart of many women and families. I've spoken to some of the members that are leading the inquiry, and my own mother has made a submission. It's something that affects so many people, and what I'm really hoping to see from this inquiry is that women will be able to have the right sort of information to make informed decisions and the right wraparound support and care. Because we know that the impacts of birth trauma can continue throughout life. That my mother, a woman in her 70s is still impacted by what she experienced, just demonstrates the long term impact that this may have. So, I'm optimistic about what will come from the inquiry and the changes that we will see and for women and families and particularly in regional and remote parts of Australia.

ROBINSON: Also of great interest to you is suicide and we know that suicide impacts a community quite hard. What are you doing to decrease suicides especially in regional Australia?

MCBRIDE: Suicidal ideation, impacts individuals, families, whole communities, especially in tight knit communities where people are so close and unknown to one another. What we're doing as a government, we're looking at all of the different policy areas and the contribution they can make to reducing distress. So working with the Minister for Employment, to boost the stability and security of employment, working with the Minister for Education, to make sure that there is quality education pathways for young people, particularly those growing up outside of major cities and working with the Minister for Housing and Homelessness, to make sure that we have more affordable and social housing. So we're really working across the whole of government in a genuine joined up way to strengthen communities and at the same time boosting services. Locally there is a headspace for young people, 12 to 25, but we're also funding through the Primary Health Network, a new Head to Health and Head to Health is a centre where someone can walk in without a diagnosis or a referral or an appointment and receive free mental health information, support and care. So at the same time, we're trying to boost communities and reduce those drivers of distress, whether that's financial or housing or relationship. We're also boosting direct provision of mental health services. We need to do both.

ROBINSON: What about younger people? Is that a particular concern for you in the regions?

MCBRIDE: It is. I've had the opportunity to hear from young people right around Australia, particularly in regional and remote centres. I grew up in a regional community myself and worked at a local hospital for many years. We know that for young people living in regional communities there's particular challenges that they face, that are unique to what young people in cities or major centres face, and also that historically, the access to services hadn't been what they've needed. We're working to strengthen the network of headspace. There's 154 headspaces around Australia, and many of them are in regional and remote communities. And we're working to make sure, there was a recent review of headspace and we're working to make sure that headspace meets the needs of young people today. We know that they've been particularly impacted by the pandemic. When a national or global disruption occurs it affects people at transitional periods in their life so particularly young people starting school or starting high school or starting work, so I'm working very closely with Minister Anne Aly, and also Minister Jason Clare responsible for education and young people to make sure that we hear directly from young people and we've stood up a national advisory to hear directly from young people about their experiences.

ROBINSON: There are long waiting lists for headspace and I imagine that's the case for many mental health services. So when does it become an emergency situation?

MCBRIDE: And this is something that we have seen, there is a shortage of health care workers. I'm a health care worker myself and I worked in mental health inpatient units, the shortage of health care workers has persisted for a long time. There's also a distribution challenge where most health care workers you'll find are working in the major hospitals of our major cities. So one of the things we did in the budget was lay the groundwork to boost our pipeline of health care workers. So we've invested $91.3 million in the pipeline of psychologists. We've also, and I'll be visiting the UNSW Rural Clinical School later today in Wagga, opened up another 100 Commonwealth Supported Places for doctors training in the regions because we know the most reliable way to build a health workforce is to have regional students enroll in regional courses and do their placements in regional and remote communities. So our strong focus is on regional students being able to train locally and to be able to work locally. We know that's our best chance at boosting our regional health workforce.

ROBINSON: Also regional areas are propped up by overseas trained doctors and nurses as well, who don't always stay in country Australia. How would you see a way of changing that?

MCBRIDE: I think there's two things that we need to look at here is one we need to look at our domestic students. We know that we graduate about 3000 doctors a year. Of those less than 20 per cent now go into primary care, general practice, and of those two in ten work outside of a major city and what we're trying to do is make those pathways to regional and rural practice more clear for people. So, we're wiping the uni debt of doctors who work in regional and remote communities. We're increasing their John Flynn pre-vocational placements so up to 4000 rotations will be occurring by 2026. We're also introducing in the Single Employer Model, first developed in the Murrumbidgee, which is a seamless way for doctors in training to move from working in hospitals to working in primary care, in general practice, by being able to be employed by one employer, the local health district and carry across their entitlements to primary care.

ROBINSON: Okay, let's keep moving because I don't want to run out of time with you, Emma McBride. I'm speaking to Emma McBride, who is the Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, and also Assistant Minister for Regional and Rural Health. We're 10 days away from the referendum. And I understand you're firmly voting yes. How confident are you that Australia will be with you on that?

MCBRIDE: What I am optimistic about is that Australians are a generous people. That were the country of the fair go. And what I've seen in visiting regional and rural health services in particular, and I'm going to one RivMed later today to hear about a First Nations led program is that when First Nations people have a direct say in the policies and programs that impact them, we see real change, we see closing of the gap, and I saw that in Yarrabah outside of Cairns, with the First Nations lead immunisation program through the pandemic. So I'm hopeful that Australians are big hearted and generous people and accept this offer for what is really an advisory committee. It's for First Nations people to have a say in the policies and programs that impact them.

ROBINSON: There is a lot of division about this, though and thoughts on both sides and it's been quite a heated debate. You'd say. How do you bring all of Australia together? If this gets through and the yes vote is there how do you convince everyone that this is the way forward?

MCBRIDE: I think this can be a very unifying moment for Australia and having spoken to First Nations people and heard from them right around the country, but particularly in regional areas. I know that what they really want to see is Australians accept that generous offer, that we can make that step together. And I am optimistic that we are a big hearted nation that we are people that believe in the fair go and that you know with the referendum and leading up to that day, I'll be continuing to listen to people to hear their views and encourage a unifying moment for Australia.

ROBINSON: And what happens if the no vote wins, what happens in that case?

MCBRIDE: Well our focus is on getting the referendum over the line in this last two weeks, and I'll be visiting pre poll in Wagga this morning to hear from some Yes23 supporters. But our strong focus is to be able to get the referendum over the line and I'm confident that the generous people that Australians are particularly in rural and regional communities, that we'll be able to achieve this unifying moment.

ROBINSON: Very quickly because we're going to run out of time. You're Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. Are you concerned about the discussion of the referendum and what that's having on the mental health of First Nations Australians especially?

MCBRIDE: I think what we need to be whatever our perspective on the referendum, I think what we need to be mindful of is being respectful, and I think that's one of the strengths of Australian democracy that people can have differences of opinion, and that they can express them in a way that is respectful. And I would encourage everyone who's participating in this vote or in the referendum to be respectful, particularly about First Nations community and we saw through the marriage equality debate that when the whole focus of the nation is on you or your family, the impact that that can have. And through the budget we've made a big investment in First Nations mental health and wellbeing. $10.5 million which is going through ‎NACCHOs and local ACCHOs just to make sure that there is that right kind of support there now.

ROBINSON: We're out of time, unfortunately, Emma McBride but thanks for joining me on ABC Riverina Breakfast this morning.

MCBRIDE: It's been a pleasure to be with you, Sam.

ROBINSON: That was Emma McBride, the Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention and also Assistant Minister for Regional and Rural Health and is visiting the region today.

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