The National Rural Health Alliance used the recent CouncilFest meeting, the annual face-to-face meeting of the Alliance Council, to celebrate its 25th anniversary of advocating for improved health services to remote and rural communities around Australia.
The Alliance Council, Friends of the Alliance, staff and invited guests gathered in Canberra for a 25th Anniversary dinner to mark the significant occasion.
Alliance Chair, Tanya Lehmann, welcomed guests and reflected on the achievements of the Alliance and its members over the past 25 years, acknowledging the quantum shift in the provision and delivery of services, changes to the rural health workforce and the take up of digital platforms to improve access to modern health services.
Tanya thanked successive Alliance Boards, Councils and staff for providing the solid base to advocate for better health services to remote and rural communities around Australia.
Keynote speaker, Professor Tom Calma, highlighted many of the issues confronting the delivery of health services to rural and remote areas, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and the issues confronting families around the ongoing drought.
“One of the many impacts of drought is the mental anguish and stress placed on farmers and all rural industries and their families. In fact, rural suicide rates are more than 50 per cent higher than in the capital cities and Indigenous suicides are double the non-Indigenous rate,” Tom said.
“There is no easy answer to address people taking their life or self-harming, but commensurate funding and consistent policy and community empowerment would be a good start.
”It gives none of us any pleasure to reflect on the fact that, historically, much of the racial tension in Australia has been centred on the status and treatment of our Indigenous peoples. It is a credit to the NRHA that, not-with-standing the cultural, social and political aspects of this challenge, it has remained loyal to the improvement of Indigenous health as one of its core issues.”
Despite these issues of concern, Tom said the aim of the night was to recognise the 25 years of Alliance activity and to celebrate three things:
• the cause
• the organisation, and
• the Alliance’s own 'people'.
“Your cause - the cause for which you are all working - is not only a good one, it is worthy,” he said.
“It is based on fairness - the principle that wherever they live in this generally affluent nation, people should have equivalent health status and equivalent access to health and health-related services.
“Over the years I have attended a number of Alliance events and all of them have dealt with the question of 'how' change will be affected, not whether it should or can be affected. This is the way governments like it. They want to hear about solutions - not the reiteration of problems that exist.
“This almost certainly helps to explain the good relationship the Alliance has had with a succession of Ministers, Shadow Ministers and departmental personnel over the years. They too accept that the cause is a good one, a fair one - and one amenable to reasonable solution.
“It is unusual for a relatively small non-government organisation in Australia to have retained such a high reputation and status for 25 years. You have the institutional integrity and fortitude to maintain this success and reputation into the future.
“The networking the NRHA does with other organisations has been exemplary, vital and valued.
“Those who have served on your Council have provided the local and professional knowledge for the Alliance to remain authentic and up-to-date and those who have served on the Board have done this as well as providing the necessary governance to allow you to thrive. A huge debt is owed to your staff, past and present, for devotion and ongoing commitment.
“With good people supporting a good organisation working on a just cause, the future will be a little more assured.”