Country Health Services

The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS: Members of this council would be well aware of my advocacy for country South Australia in a range of spheres. I have been encouraged by recent support given to country Australians suffering from natural disasters, among other difficulties. I also know the minister has spoken in this place on country health matters on a number of occasions. Will the minister update the council on support for country health services?

The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing) (14:45): I thank the honourable member for his question and his ongoing advocacy for country health. The Marshall Liberal government was elected with a commitment to address the damage done to country health services over 16 years of Labor neglect. I have seen this firsthand in recent trips to country South Australia, including a visit to Port Augusta, Port Pirie and Balaklava last week. I had the opportunity to tour the tired facilities such as the Port Augusta ambulance station and the Port Pirie Regional Health Service. I also heard from locals about the difficulties that can be faced accessing appropriate health care, particularly GPs in country areas.

Country GPs is one of the points where state and commonwealth responsibilities overlap. That is why I was delighted last night to hear of the Morrison Liberal government's recent commitment to provide $62 million additional support for rural generalist training. Commonwealth funding is usually targeted on expanding primary care provisions. Given rural hospitals are so reliant on the primary care GP workforce, this increased support also assists our attraction and future recruitment of hospital GPs.

The investment is likely to mean an expansion of junior doctor training positions in rural areas, including postgraduate year 2 doctors, which will help South Australia as it builds the training pipeline. This investment builds on the doubling of medical interns that was delivered in the last 12 months. The funding will also help to increase the number of GP registrars based in rural SA general practices. The investment will complement the investment by the Marshall Liberal government of $20 million for our rural health workforce strategy.

I am advised that SA Health has been invited to meet with representatives of the commonwealth later in April to explore how the two investments might work together. This is in addition to the funding already committed. Working with the Morrison Liberal government, we have secured $8.6 million for upgrades for the Mount Barker District Soldiers' Memorial Hospital and a further $3.9 million for Strathalbyn aged care. The Morrison Liberal government's budget includes a further $187 million over four years to lift the freeze on the MBS—a freeze put in place by Labor. This will provide further support for GPs and lead to less out-of-pocket expenses for patients.

These investments add to the Marshall Liberal government's own investment in country health services: $140 million to address the backlog in country capital works; $20 million, as I said, for rural health workforce strategy; and $50 million in individual projects in rural areas such as the Mount Gambier hospital and the Healthy Towns Challenge. These investments are a clear demonstration of the benefits the Morrison and Marshall Liberal governments are delivering together to provide the support for country health services so long ignored by Labor.