Date published: 
3 July 2020
Media type: 
Media release
General public

The appointment of eminent rural health advocate, medical practitioner and researcher Associate Professor Ruth Stewart as Australia’s next National Rural Health Commissioner further demonstrates the Federal Government’s commitment to improving health care in the bush.

The Government recently extended and expanded the Office of the National Rural Health Commissioner to have a broader focus. Additionally, the Commissioner will be supported by two Deputy Commissioners to specifically look after allied health, nursing and Indigenous health.

Minister for Health, Greg Hunt said the Federal Government is delighted to appoint Associate Professor Stewart to this important role.

“The Office of the National Rural Health Commissioner has become an essential component of the Coalition Government’s approach to improving rural health outcomes since its establishment back in 2017,” Minister Hunt said.

“One of the early priorities for the expanded Office will be to support the Government’s ongoing rural response to COVID-19 and to examine the impact on health workforce planning in regional, rural and remote communities.

“Associate Professor Stewart’s wealth of experience and expertise will be invaluable in driving the Australian Government’s commitment to improving rural health outcomes around the nation.”

Regional Health Minister, Mark Coulton said Associate Professor Stewart has had a distinguished career in rural health, both as a practitioner and an academic; most recently working as an Associate Professor of Rural Medicine, Director of Rural Clinical Training and Support at James Cook University.

“Under Associate Professor Stewart’s leadership, the Office will take a broader approach to rural health, and will help deliver the Government’s key reforms and targeted rural health priorities to support practical change for communities,” Minister Coulton said.

“The Coalition Government has shown it is willing to tackle head on the challenges of health services in rural and regional Australia, and this appointment further demonstrates that commitment to make the regions a better place to live and do business.”

Associate Professor Stewart lives and works on Thursday Island where she has been a Senior Medical Officer with obstetric credentialing.

Associate Professor Stewart will lead an expanded National Rural Health Commissioner Office, which will now include non-statutory Deputy Commissioners who will support the Commissioner and provide expertise across a range of vital rural health disciplines such as nursing, allied health and Indigenous health.

The new National Rural Health Commissioner, A/Prof Ruth Stewart said it will be a great privilege to work with rural and remote communities to improve their health outcomes. 

“I look forward to supporting Minister Hunt and Minister Coulton to set priorities and develop strategies to best serve rural and remote Australia,” Associate Professor Stewart said.

“I will work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples across the nation to ensure that these policies are culturally safe and directed at closing the gap. This is an exciting challenge for my office to develop and promote innovative and integrated approaches to health care delivery in rural and remote areas.

“Working with the Deputy Commissioners I will be able to focus on the whole of the multidisciplinary team. 

"In this I am fortunate to be able to pick up the National Rural Generalist program of work for medicine and allied health conducted by my esteemed predecessor, Professor Paul Worley the inaugural Rural Health Commissioner.”

The Office will contribute to significant health reforms already under way, including in primary health care, workforce and training.

Minister Hunt and Minister Coulton said they look forward to working closely with Associate Professor Stewart and her staff to improve access to health services for Australians who call regional, rural and remote Australia home.

Associate Professor Stewart takes up the appointment following the conclusion of the term of the inaugural National Rural Health Commissioner, Emeritus Professor Paul Worley, who served in the role from November 2017.