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A new threat to rural Queenslanders?

By Mark Leyland - posted Tuesday, 4 October 2005


The Inquiry into Queensland Health, that has brought so much adverse publicity for the Beattie Government, has been a distraction for all sectors of the community in Queensland.

The daily revelations, twists, turns and backflips have been a circus watched from the sidelines by local government stakeholders.

That was until the then Commissioner Tony Morris commented, “We may have to abandon the idea of small, one-doctor hospitals in country towns”. For a host of mayors, councillors and officers from “country towns”, those were fighting words!

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Suddenly the ears pricked up, and the inquiry ceased to be of just general interest.

The then Commissioner was suggesting an action that would directly and adversely impact on the communities of country towns. Local councils are very interested in those sorts of impacts.

There are many threats to the survival of many small communities in rural, regional and western Queensland. The loss of any one of a number of critical services or industries in those communities could well be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

The State Government is a past master at cutting back its presence in rural and regional Queensland - for all of the right economic rationalist’s reasons - but forgetting, overlooking or simply ignoring the cumulative effect on small communities.

For example, a couple of families leave town because the rail maintenance can be centralised, and all of a sudden the local store is less viable, the school doesn’t have the numbers to justify two teachers, and the downward spiral accelerates.

One of the key and essential services that keeps people in a community is the availability of medical and hospital services.

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For a one issue inquiry, with a focus on the institution of Queensland Health, to be proposing an action that would almost certainly have wide ranging and debilitating effects on those communities, shows a blinkered and unrealistic understanding of the forces at work in rural and regional Queensland.

Removing hospital services from rural communities would have a real and devastating effect on the health of citizens living in those communities. Ultimately, it would ruin many of those communities.

Not only are hospitals in these communities often the major employer in town, they also support indirect employment in allied health services. The costs of operating medical services in these communities are insignificant when compared to the economic and social costs to these communities if they were to lose them.

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About the Author

Mark Leyland is the Finance and Governance Policy Advisor to the Local Government Association of Queensland.

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