Supporting rural communities through COVID-19 and beyond: peak body calls for economic support

17 July 2020

The National Rural Health Alliance, the peak body for rural health in Australia, released a position statement today calling for greater economic support for rural communities affected by COVID-19.

The statement has four key asks – (i) the rate of the JobSeeker Payment to remain the same until the economy and job market recover; (ii) action to address critical shortages of health workers in rural and regional areas; (iii) ongoing support for rural health care providers including by maintaining JobKeeper payments; and (iv) increased economic stimulus for rural and regional communities.

National Rural Health Alliance CEO Dr Gabrielle O’Kane said that it was crucial to protect rural communities from the mental and physical health effects of economic uncertainty and poverty.

“COVID-19 is the biggest health challenge of our generation, but the health effects don’t stop with the virus itself,” said Dr O’Kane.

"The economic impact of the pandemic has been devastating for rural, regional and remote communities, many of which are economically disadvantaged to begin with.

“We need the health response right now, but we also want to make sure that economic support for rural communities continues until the economy and job market have time to recover.

“We know that the economy will take a long time to recover from the pandemic but that this will be particularly challenging for rural areas. By supporting rural businesses, households and individuals through ongoing economic support, we can help counter the negative mental and physical health impacts of poverty and economic uncertainty.”

Dr O’Kane said that maintaining the rates of JobSeeker and JobKeeper was crucial during this pandemic.

“We know that the boost to JobSeeker has meant that many people are now able to afford basics like healthy food for the first time. We simply can’t let JobSeeker snap back to its previous levels while the economic impact of the pandemic is still being felt.

“Also without ongoing economic support, including JobKeeper payments, there is a real risk that many rural health care providers will become unsustainable and have to shut their doors. This would obviously be devastating not just for staff but for the communities who rely on these providers.

“We also need targeted stimulus for rural, regional and remote Australia. This could include investment in agricultural innovation, manufacture of personal protective equipment and increased support for online university training to increase and upskill the rural health workforce.

“We acknowledge the significant work that all levels of government have already done but believe there is always more that can be done to support people living in rural, regional and remote Australia.”

The position statement is available here.