National Rural Health Alliance—2021–22 Pre-Budget Submission

29 January 2021

Rural, regional and remote Australia is not only home to more than seven million Australians, it is also the source of much of the nation’s economic contribution with around two thirds of Australia's export earnings come from regional industries such as agriculture, tourism, retail, services and manufacturing.

The Australians who live in rural, regional and remote Australia enjoy the benefits of living in smaller communities with a strong sense of community spirit, less congestion and, depending on location, more affordable housing. The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey found that Australians living in towns with fewer than 1,000 people generally experienced higher levels of life satisfaction than those in urban areas and major cities.

A major disadvantage to rural living is, however, reduced access to services and in particular access to health services. On average, Australians living in rural and remote areas have shorter lives, higher levels of disease and injury and poorer access to and use of health services, compared with people living in metropolitan areas. Despite there being a high level of awareness of the often significant disparities in health outcomes between urban and rural Australia, health outcomes for rural Australians have not been consistently improving over time, but rather are stagnating or, in some instances, declining.

Rural and remote Australians recognise that they cannot always have ready access to the level of service that metropolitan Australians enjoy, but they should have access to quality and affordable health care which does not compromise the standard of care they receive or their health outcomes.

The National Rural Health Alliance believes that all Australians, wherever they live, should have access to comprehensive, high-quality, accessible and appropriate health services, and the opportunity for equitable health outcomes. The Alliance does not consider that poor health or premature death should be an accepted outcome of living in rural, regional and remote Australia.

The Alliance has three overarching 2021-22 Pre-Budget proposals targeting rural, regional and remote Australian communities, each with a number of proposed initiatives underneath them. The first overarching proposal is for the development of a new National Rural Health Strategy and Implementation Plan. The second proposal is for a focus on alternative funding for innovative models of care. The third proposal involves strengthening health system access and telehealth in the bush.

A summary of the Alliance’s proposals and expected costs over the forward estimates are found on the following page. Further details of each proposals can be found at Appendix 2.