I rise to talk about a matter of the utmost significance in western New South Wales. The story of the Royal Flying Doctor Service is the story of outback Australia. The flying doctor was born out of the desire of Reverend John Flynn to overcome the incredible adversity and isolation that plagued regional Australia in 1928. Pioneers such as Reverend Flynn believed that the provision of comprehensive health care would be the single most important factor in the development of regional Australia, an important lesson that governments of today would do very well to remember.
The late Sir Robert Menzies was very much correct when he said that the flying doctor represented the ‘greatest single contribution to the effective settlement of the far distant back country that we have witnessed in our time’. The service remains a living reminder to regional Australians of their ability to triumph over adversity and their commitment to push regional Australia forward. The result of Reverend Flynn’s dream was the establishment of the first comprehensive aeromedical organization in the world. Today the Royal Flying Doctor Service remains a medical safety net upon which every Australian not living in one of our major cities is completely reliant in times of emergency, and in New South Wales a section of this service is about to be sold to the highest bidder.
In 2007 the Commonwealth introduced a funding model that provided 40 per cent of the capital cost of all Royal Flying Doctor Service aircraft and 100 per cent of operational funding for primary health services that, combined with state based interhospital transfers, supported an integrated Royal Flying Doctor Service delivery model. At the urging of Prime Minister John Howard, this model was adopted by the states of Western Australia, Queensland and South Australia. As a consequence, a strong and fully integrated service delivery model was implemented for the effective and efficient delivery of health services in the rural, regional and remote areas of those states.
The model was not adopted in New South Wales or Victoria. As a result, not only have the regional people in those states been denied a strong and fully integrated RFDS, but they are the states in which the provision of air ambulance services is coming up for tender. We believe that it would be far more sensible for New South Wales to accept the model that was offered to it in 2007. It is estimated that through adopting a statewide integrated RFDS aeromedical service, with common aircraft and medical outfit at their Mascot, Broken Hill, Dubbo and Bankstown bases, New South Wales Health would stand to save $49.2 million over the next 10 years.
The federal government must enter discussions with the New South Wales government to establish long-term funding of the Royal Flying Doctor Service as the air ambulance service provider in NSW. The door must be opened to NSW to negotiate an entry point into the federal scheme that has been adopted by other states. It is vital to remember that the Royal Flying Doctor Service is not beholden to profits and shareholders, only to the Australian public. It will fly anywhere, anytime to transport patients regardless of the cost. The air ambulance contract gives the RFDS a greater capability to deliver these services and the income generated through this contract, combined with the generosity of the people of inland Australia, is reinvested back into aircraft and other important services.
I have grave fears this will not be the situation we see if the contract awarded to a privately listed company whose primary concern is the bottom line. The Royal Flying Doctor Service have in no uncertain terms warned me that, if their air ambulance contract was lost, it would jeopardise their ability to meet costs, forcing them to rely on government handouts and the generosity of the general public to keep them in operation.
We are all very well aware that, after 14 years of a Labor government, the state’s health services, particularly in regional New South Wales, are in a perilous, almost terminal, condition. The Royal Flying Doctor Service is one organisation working to reverse this decline. Since its inception in Dubbo in 1999 the Royal Flying Doctor Service has developed an extremely effective and beneficial relationship with Sydney University’s School of Rural Health. For many students at the university’s Dubbo campus the opportunity to join the Royal Flying Doctor Service retrieval flights and receive guidance from the organisation’s senior doctors is the highlight of their studies. The benefits are mutual. When students see what options are available to them in regional New South Wales they are far more inclined to consider a future there.