Senator for Western Australia Zhenya ‘Dio’ Wang has warned the Government about the long-term impacts of prioritising its budget bottom line over country health services after questioning the Rural Health Minister about slashing millions of dollars from rural and remote allied health scholarships.
In his question without notice in Parliament on Wednesday1, Senator Wang asked for a review of the cut from $11.4m to $7.2m in scholarship funding administered by Services for Australian Rural and Remote Allied Health, given allied health has always been under-represented in scholarship funding.
Senator Wang said while he agreed with the Minister that taxpayer dollars should be efficiently and effectively spent, risking the long-term retention of vital preventative health professionals in remote areas of Australia for a band-aid budget fix was a short-sighted policy approach.
“Research has shown clinical placement in rural and remote areas has a strong influence on allied health professionals’ choice to pursue a career in those areas,” he said.
Senator Wang told the Parliament about a clinical placement at Kimberley Mental Health Service in Broome and an occupational therapy placement at Kununurra leading to an ongoing working relationship as two examples of the remote allied health scholarships at work.
“How will the Minister improve the efficiency of these scholarships whilst retaining positive results such as these demonstrated in Western Australia’s remote north-west?” he said.
“When my office was in East Perth, we saw many Aboriginal people from the Kimberley and other parts of remote WA coming to Perth for treatment.
“Cutting allied health scholarships across rural and remote Australia this financial year by about 37 per cent – or about 227 fewer places than the 602 funded in 2014/15 – will reduce the number of preventative health professionals in remote communities and result in more patients travelling all the way to Perth for treatment… which not only often comes too late, it also ultimately costs taxpayers more.”