23 February 2023

Dr Joe demands NSW Labor clarify its position on regional health

| Chris Roe
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Dr Joe McGirr

Dr Joe McGirr wants Labor to clarify its position on the Regional Health portfolio. Photo: Chris Roe.

Wagga’s independent MP Dr Joe McGirr has demanded clarification from NSW Labor on the future of the Regional Health portfolio if the party wins the 25 March election.

Labor’s commitment to the recently created stand-alone ministry was thrown into doubt by frontbencher Jenny Aitchison who declared this week that it was “just not working”

The role was created in response to a regional health inquiry and Deputy Nationals leader Bronnie Taylor took the reins in late 2021.

According to the Daily Telegraph, Ms Aitchison said nothing had improved, suggesting that Labor wanted “one health system in this state that works it shouldn’t matter what your postcode is”.

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A fired-up Dr McGirr said he was “extremely disappointed” by Ms Aitchison’s implication that it would be scrapped.

“If that’s true that represents a dangerous step backwards for the regions and for regional health,” he said, brandishing a copy of the rural health report delivered last year.

“If nothing else, this report demonstrated that blanket health policies designed in cities don’t work in regional areas.

“We need a regional health minister and, of course, I’ve been asking for a regional health department. Stand alone.”

Two women talking

NSW Labor frontbencher Jenny Aitchison in Wagga this month with Labor candidate Keryn Foley. Photo: Chris Roe.

The report made 44 recommendations, one of which was that a Regional Health Minister should be maintained in cabinet.

While the coalition committed to 41 of the 44 recommendations, Labor Health spokesman Ryan Park had previously stated his party would implement all 44.

Dr McGirr warned Labor it would be “a very, very important issue” for many cross-bench candidates in the upcoming poll.

“I think this will be a very close election and there will be a number of cross-benchers involved in that,” he said.

“I would expect them to take an interest, many of them, in regional health.”

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While Jenny Aitchison did not respond to Region’s inquires, Ryan Park replied by text message and neither confirmed nor denied the claims a Labor government would drop the portfolio.

“We’re focused on health outcomes for regions as people would expect of us, not ministerial organisation charts – that’s our primary focus,” the statement read.

“We will make considered evidence-based decisions if we win government.”

The response is unlikely to satisfy Dr McGirr, who said Labor would have a credibility issue after criticising the Coalition’s decision to “note” three of the recommendations rather than commit to all 44.

“The irony is that Labor led that inquiry, we’ve got these recommendations, it’s a good inquiry and here they are walking it back. I think it’s an issue that needs to be clarified,” he said.

“This is a crisis issue in the bush.

“That’s why the government went ahead and appointed the regional health minister, so there could be a unique focus at the highest levels of government, outside the bureaucracy, to keep the bureaucracy accountable.”

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