Monthly Archives: October 2014

Bush Matters Op-Ed – “Reclaiming the message”

31 October 2014

The increased appetite among consumers for quality food ingredients has been a mixed blessing for Australian farmers.

On one hand, our undoubted and unrivalled attention to detail and quality has increasingly resulted in a premium price in the domestic and international marketplace.

But it has also forced Australian agriculture to open its paddock gate like never before and answer an ever widening scope of questions about the way farmers produce their commodity, particularly food.

This interaction between producer and consumer can take many forms.

In the most extreme and alarming form, it involves illegal trespass by extreme green activists, who feel they had a right to be on private property.

On a more general basis, it involves assuring our major buyers that our product is meeting and exceeding community expectations.

Far too often the message gets deliberately muddled somewhere between the paddock and the plate, which enables extreme green activists to strike.

Unable to offer anything of substance, these activist groups claim legitimacy by dividing and clouding the information channels in the business supply chain.

This was more than apparent last year when Coles Supermarkets agreed to sell 15,000 shopping bags produced by extremist group Animals Australia.

As many will remember, the bag displayed winged pigs with the caption, “believe in a world without factory farming”.

The concept was for the bags to be sold in 500 metropolitan Coles Supermarkets.

It would have been a major publicity victory for the animal rights extremists had a clear and concerted grassroots protest campaign by Australian farmers not disrupted the plan.

Aussie landholders were able to shine sufficient light on the murky intentions of Animals Australia to lead Coles to unceremoniously dump this unwarranted political baggage.

It is clear that Australian agriculture’s sustainability and production credentials are underpinned by credible, independent scientific analysis.

But if we are unable to convince our major buyers of these credentials, industry can quickly become caught in the marketing crossfire.

Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than with the supermarket duopoly.

In the cut throat and low profit margin world of the major supermarkets, farmers are being expected to endure a tightening price squeeze at the farm gate whilst maintaining, and indeed exceeding, the expectations of the rest of the supply chain.

The supply chain can quickly become a shackle that binds the Australian farmer.

We have seen the latest example with Coles’ decision to introduce its own pasture-fed beef quality standard.

The decision has sparked anger across the beef industry because it adds another certification process that producers will now have to confront, which is separate to the P-CAS pasture-fed standard that has already been adopted by Woolworths and Teys Australia.

The Pasture-fed Certification Assurance System (P-CAS) was industry led – it was developed by MLA and Cattle Council – which only proves Coles’ decision is not based on any scientific logic – it is simply about gaining an upper hand in its never ending marketing duel with Woolworths.

So yet again we see farmers suffer as collateral damage in the supermarket war.  Adding new layers of certification only adds cost and can only hinder business decisions for producers.

Ultimately we have to ask ourselves – what purpose does an auditing and quality control process serve if it is only going to be undermined by our major buyers?

No one is arguing that there should not be scrutiny over the process to ensure it maintains world class.

But Coles has previously shown poor judgement in its willingness to climb into bed with animal activists with little scrutiny to the proclivities of its bedfellow.

And it is again showing poor judgement by forgoing industry expertise in its business decisions.

Earlier this year myself and Senator Ron Boswell initiated the Square-table meeting to combat attempted infiltration by the World Wildlife Fund  because there was a clear case that the Australian beef industry was losing the information battle against McDonalds and that extreme animal rights groups were gaining the upper hand.

Both the cases involving McDonalds and Coles show that even when we have the scientific proof on our side, we need to take a more aggressive stance in marketing this information to our customers.

This latest decision by Coles shows there is still much work to be done.

But, in the meantime, I would urge the company to return to the negotiating table with industry and reconsider this current decision, lest we might have to dust off our campaigning skills and bring them back for public account.

Bush Matters Op-Ed – “Driven to care for rural patients”

17 October 2014

Sometimes it is a welcome change of pace to be able to step back from the turmoil of the political battlefield and celebrate one person’s vision to improve the plight of his fellow Australians.

Dr Rolf Gomes is a probably not a name you have heard before.

But his determination and sheer bloody-mindedness has literally set the wheels in motion towards an entirely new approach for delivering specialist medical care across rural communities.

Dr Gomes is a general Cardiologist with a special interest in heart failure, valvular heart disease and echocardiography.

He left a secure and highly paid career as an electrical engineer to study and graduate from medical school at The University of Queensland.

He then went on he completed his Cardiology Specialty training at The Prince Charles Hospital and The Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.

A major turning point in his medical career came during his time as a doctor in rural communities.

He said this time opened his eyes to the frustrating hurdles people outside the major centres confront when trying to receive even basic medical care.

Dr Gomes said he knew of rural patients that would drive all day to the city and sleep in their cars out the front of the hospital only to be told the next morning that their doctor had been called away to an emergency and they would have to come back in a fortnight.

He knew of other rural patients that risked complicating their heart conditions by driving on long stretches of highways because they desperately needed their test results.

Dr Gomes said the problem was that there was a clear shortage of medical specialists.

Yet, he concluded if medical specialists, such as him, did not take action to provide potential solutions, then it would be hard to expect anyone else to contribute to fixing these problems.

And so he took action, developing a prototype for Australia’s first mobile specialist medical clinic.

After five years of work, the ribbon was cut on the Kenworth K200 Prime Mover with 25m long trailer (making it one of the longest trucks on the Australian road) in Toowoomba only a few days ago.

The trailer contains a fully functional diagnostic and treatment clinic, with two private consultation rooms, a testing room with diagnostic equipment and even a reception area.

The clinic allows people across the bush to receive what they have solely lacked – specialist medical care just a stone’s throw from their farm gate.

The truck is currently in St George and will travel to Dalby, St George, Charleville, Roma and Goondiwindi over the coming months. There are eventual plans to take it across the state.

The ability to bring specialist treatment to a community is a game changer for the medical fraternity and rural Australians.

Health professionals and policy makers around the nation are now watching this truck carefully to see how the concept might be adapted to cater to different rural regions and specialist medical care.

This revolutionary concept could not only assist rural people seek cardiology specialist treatment, but could be expanded to include other medical facilities in the future.

At the unveiling of the Heart of Australia, Dr Gomes told the audience how he arrived in Australia from India as a small boy. His parents were carrying a suitcase each. His father had just $200 in his wallet.

He said from these humble beginnings he was able to work towards a university education and ultimately a highly respectable career in medicine.

He told the audience that it was his love of Australia, and appreciation of all it had given him, which had driven him to want to give back to his adopted homeland.

Well, I think Australia is far better off for his drive and determination.

Dr Gomes is a true leader and man of vision. We need more of his kind.

And I will put it on the public record that I will continue to fight for the mobile medical clinic concept to expand across the length and breadth of our nation.

Million dollar safety upgrade for Cunningham Highway

15 October 2014

The Federal Government has committed $1.15 million to improve safety along a notorious stretch of the Cunningham Highway, near Ipswich.

The announcement comes after the 900-metre stretch of highway at New Chum was identified as a ‘black spot,’ following a history of repeated single vehicle crashes.

The funding was approved under the Black Spot Program, which directly targets the safety of roads with proven crash histories or high-risk locations.

The $1.15 million upgrade is the third biggest commitment of a $13.9 million funding announcement which was made in June for Black Spot projects across Queensland.

The safety upgrade will involve widening the shoulder of the highway, installing wire rope safety barriers and improving line marking.

Queensland Senator Barry O’Sullivan, who announced the funding at the highway site today, said the Black Spot Program was a central component to improving public safety and reducing the national road toll.

Senator O’Sullivan said that fatal and casualty crashes had been reduced by 30 per cent at sites that had been upgraded through the Black Spot Program.

“As a former police detective, I understand first-hand the devastation that vehicle accidents can cause to families and communities,” he said.

“It’s great to be able to stand at this black spot site and tell the people that something is going to be done to improve public safety for the many thousands of motorists that use this road.

“The Black Spot program is vital to ensuring essential public safety projects are able to proceed.”

LNP Federal Divisional Council Chair for Blair Teresa Harding said this funding announcement fulfilled an election commitment to improve road safety in the Blair electorate.

“I continue to speak with Federal and State Government Ministers to ensure we are delivering on the election promises for our region,” she said.

“I am proud that another of our promises have been realised. It is another step towards improving liveability and public safety.”

The Federal Government has committed $500 million to the Black Spot Programme from 2014-15 to 2018-19, which includes an additional $200 million over two years from 2015-16 under the Infrastructure Growth Package to improve road safety across the nation.

[ENDS.]

Media Contact: Troy Rowling 0400 386 666.

Bush Matters Op-Ed – “Don’t cut the service that delivers”

3 October 2014

It could be argued the Australian Postal Service operators have been combating harsh economic rationalist sentiments since their humble beginnings in the 1700s.

As many readers would know, tall ships were the only method to transport mail between the colonies during the early years of British settlement.

Ship Captains often complained of poor remuneration for the work and, as a result, were reluctant to dedicate any time or effort to collecting mailbags from the harbours.

It was not uncommon for post office workers to have to climb into a row boat and brave dangerous waters to force the mail bags onto these passing ships.

Ignoring any community service obligation, it was also not uncommon for Ship Captains to simply order the unwanted mail bags be thrown overboard.

The great turning point in our nation came when overland mail routes were developed. This often enabled the government to award a contract to someone within the community to oversee mail service delivery.

Gone were the days when large shipping companies would toss the mail overboard.

Instead, community members took pride in work that connected their town with the outside world and provided a steady and sufficient income to raise a family. In fact – our nation could not have developed without the proud historical efforts of our national postal system.

For many generations of people, delivery of the mail became a matter of pride and societal obligation. 1

Take, for example, John Conway Bourke, who was Victoria’s first mailman.

Riding his horse with a mailbag draped over his front, Bourke is reputed to have travelled 18,000km on any given year on the overland mail trail to Yass.

His exploits became legend in 19th century bush folklore.

One story tells how, when being chased by savage dogs, he stripped naked to swim the flooded Murray River.

On reaching the other side he then was forced to shimmy naked up a tree with the mail bag.

When later recounting the story, someone asked why he took such extreme measures to protect his precious freight. His reply: “I am Her Majesty’s Mail.”

Like Tom Kruse on the infamous Birdsville Track more than a century later, John Bourke would take great pride in minimising the isolation of his rural community.

Across many decades, Australia’s pioneers would prove able to brave floods, drought, fire, war and economic depression. But they also proved they could not do it alone.

The issue of community service obligations has again raised its weary head with the release of the Federal Senate Inquiry report into Australia Post last week, of which I was a participating committee member.

Among the recommendations, the committee concluded that Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull should commission an independent audit of the functions of privately-owned post offices (known as, Licensed Post Offices) and Australia Post should be required to renegotiate the terms and conditions of some agreements with Licensed Post Offices to ensure they are fair and equitable.

The report details clearly how central Post Offices, many of which are privately owned businesses, remain in the economic and social life of rural Australia. These businesses are the maypole that prop many towns.

There was sufficient anecdotal and empirical evidence provided during the Senate inquiry to conclude there are hundreds and hundreds of small businesses unnecessarily suffering as a result of not being properly and adequately renumerated for delivering what are the Commonwealth service obligations.

Australia Post has said it is reviewing the report and recommendations. It is expected this report will push the company towards ensuring a fairer price, which at least keeps pace with the consumer price index, which would enable privately-owned post offices to remain viable. 2

This battle is about more than the future direction of Australia Post – it is about pushing against a tipping point in the decline of service delivery across regional and rural Australia.

The Post Office has become, in many ways, a simple yet poignant symbol of government investment in a rural community.

Across many communities, the schools have closed. The medical clinics have closed. The railway station does not function anymore. A hairdresser drives into town every two months. There are more and more empty shops in the main street.

But the Post Office remains. The fresh red and white signage stands out, and provides some example the town has not completely fallen.

The post office in these communities is seen as an integral part of the social fabric of that society.

Since many banks, government services and offices have left regional areas and centralized in cities, rural post offices have become essential for the provision of banking, bill paying, financial transactions, communications and general business services within many country towns.

There is often an expectation that even if a problem does not relate to the post office, someone in the post office will be able to assist.

Many of these Post Office operators have invested their life savings into these businesses, yet some are receiving payment less than $10 per hour. This is simply not sustainable and must be addressed.

There are almost 1800 of these privately-owned post offices across rural Australia. That’s 1800 communities with some vestige of government services that must be protected.

When the hungry hounds of economic rationalism attempt to chase down the last vestiges of public service delivery in rural communities, we need to ensure there are strong enough voices in parliament and across the bush to stop them.

We will be carefully watching Australia Post’s response.

The executive of Australia Post needs to take some inspiration from that mailman extraordinaire, John Conway Bourke.

The drive for the hearts of rural Queenslanders

3 October 2014

Cardiologist Dr Rolf Gomes has always lived by a simple motto, “if it is to be, it’s up to me.”

It is this drive and determination that has led Dr Gomes to pioneer a new approach to how specialist medical services are delivered across rural, regional and remote Queensland.

The Heart of Australia, which was launched in Toowoomba on Friday, is the nation’s first mobile medical clinic.

It will provide specialist cardiac and respiratory services to people across rural and regional Queensland, where people are 44 per cent more likely to die from heart disease than their city counterparts

The mobile clinic is a custom-built, $1.5million, 25m-long semi-trailer with specialist diagnostic equipment and technology, staffed by a team of cardiologists and respiratory specialists on a rotating roster.

It will begin its first circuit of south-western Queensland on Saturday, starting at St George.

Dr Gomes said the initiative would be a “game changer for the health and wellbeing of people living in rural and remote communities”.

“For some people in these areas it can be a day’s drive or longer to see a specialist. Now the service will come to them,” he said.

“We are hoping this program and the Heart of Australia brand will move us towards a more sustainable approach to the provision of specialist health services.”

Sharing the journey has been Toowoomba-based Senator Barry O’Sullivan, who has traversed the sometimes rocky road of lobbying for State and Federal Government funds for the Heart of Australia project since taking his seat in parliament in February.

“From the first time Dr Gomes approached me with his concept I knew it could forever change medical service delivery for the bush. This truck really is a glimpse into what the future holds,” Senator O’Sullivan said.

“I think Dr Gomes and myself have both been learning as we go about how to push for commitments from government.

“I was a new Senator and probably didn’t always follow the typical protocol, but we have got a great result in the end. Launching the Heart of Australia mobile clinic is among the most fulfilling moments of my short political life.”

[ENDS.]

Heart of Australia Factbox:

  • The clinic module is towed by a Kenworth prime mover and has two consulting rooms, new ultrasound and cardiac stress testing equipment, and telemedicine capabilities.
  • It will travel in fortnightly rotations throughout rural Queensland, beginning on Saturday (October 4).
  • The first circuit will include Dalby, Roma, Charleville, St George and Goondiwindi.
  • Heart of Australia is delivered in partnership with Arrow Energy and is supported by Medihearts, Bayer Australia, St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital, Kenworth, IOR Petroleum, Brown and Hurley, Telstra, GT Insurance and Skytrans

Heart of Australia

1 October 2014

Senator O’SULLIVAN (Queensland—Nationals Whip in the Senate) (12:45): I am pleased to be able to give the very first of senators’ statements in this place under the new arrangements and on a topic that I am certain will enjoy the support and encouragement of all sides of politics, regardless of our particular partisan interests.

I rise to speak about the advent of an initiative known in my homestate of Queensland as the Heart of Australia. This project embodies the most innovative approach to front-line specialist medical services to be delivered in generations. It specifically aims at assisting those Australians whose access to medical facilities of a standard that is taken for granted by many of us is threatened by our nation’s vast distances. This initiative is the brainchild of Dr Rolf Gomes and his wife, Kylie Gomes. They have facilitated the establishment of the nation’s first mobile specialist cardiac health service clinic. Whilst this is unique to Queensland, I fully anticipate that this project will operate in some ways as a pilot. I know that it has attracted great interest across our nation, and I expect that health professionals all over the country and those who are responsible for the development and implementation of public health policy will be watching this initiative very closely in order that it may be duplicated, not just in the way that services to do with cardiovascular disease are delivered but also in the way that a very wide range of medical services can be delivered remotely, with the right amount of planning and support.

Millions of Australian are affected by cardiovascular disease. It is rated as Australia’s biggest killer and, at any given time, it affects the lives of up to 3. million Australians. One of the tragic statistics that goes with cardiovascular disease is that, if you live in rural and regional Australia, you are more inclined to be affected by this disease by about 15 per cent. This is a very significant variation and one that ought to remain of serious concern to all those who develop and implement health policy in our country. If you go to communities where the inhabitants are predominantly our Indigenous Australians then this figure with respect to cardiovascular disease increases once more to levels which I say we should all be embarrassed about.

People living in rural and regional communities have less access to many critical health services. People in regional, rural and remote areas of Australia experience poorer health outcomes than those living in urban areas on just about any test that is applied. Life expectancy in regional areas of our country is one to two years lower and in remote areas it is up to seven years lower than the average in our major cities. These stats are compounded by the fact that people who live in regional areas and whose life is tragically affected by trauma injuries do not get the critical treatment within that important time span post the event because of remoteness, distance or availability of services. People in regional, rural and remote communities have limited access to primary healthcare services and are more likely to be admitted to hospitals for conditions which could have potentially been prevented through the earlier provision of non-hospital services and care.

In my maiden speech in this place, I made clear the point that over decades the economic rationalist policies of many administrations—and I think I commented at the time that bad policy has no respect for the political incumbent, so they have been decisions taken by governments of all walks of life—have reduced all levels of services in a very critical way to many hundreds, if not thousands, of our small communities across the country. I was quite specific about the affects of this policy on my homestate of Queensland, but I am sure it applies equally to most of the rural and regional areas in the country. Over time we reduced people’s access to services. We closed the courthouses. We pulled up the railway lines. We closed the schools. Also, at that time, we gave licence to the private sector banks, the real estate agencies and the stock and station agencies to leave these small communities and districts. One of the most critical sectors to leave was health services. Indeed, there was a time when women who lived in the many dozens of small communities in my home state could go through their confinement in their community. They could prepare for the delivery of their family member and, indeed, give birth to their child in those communities —but now that is not the case. In fact, many of the communities that at one time were properly staffed with health professionals now have none at all. It means that people in those small communities—and, as importantly, the very big districts that they service— now have to travel hundreds of kilometres to get simple primary health care, such as the setting of a broken bone or some other treatment that might be critical to their condition.

It is within that context that I have been proudly, along with quite a number of others, supporting Dr Gomes in his Heart of Australia initiative. It is a superinnovative project that includes a massive trailer. This would be of interest to you, Senator Sterle. I understand it is the longest trailer, at 29 metres, to be commissioned to go on the road. Its launch will be on Friday morning in my hometown of Toowoomba, where I will proudly be representing our government and the parliament generally. This service will take state-of-the-art cardiovascular diagnostic equipment to all of the small regional and rural community hubs. Effectively, an individual—who otherwise may have taken weeks upon weeks to get referrals and to travel from their community to larger centres like Townsville and Brisbane—will now be able to have these tests done right there at home, maybe only a block from where they live, if they happen to live in or near one of these community hubs.

There is evidence that many people on the land often put off testing for cardiovascular disease. They put chest pains and chest pressures down to strains from work. They wait until the shearing is completed or the mustering is done or whichever of those heavy chores for people struggling on the land is finished before they get checked. In doing that, they are taking a gamble. As of Friday, that all changes. They will now have regular and very accessible opportunities for their GP to refer them to this mobile clinic, for want of a better description. If their cardiovascular condition is of a serious nature, they will have access to life-saving treatment.

I commend this initiative to this chamber and to our government generally. I will be seeing that my government pays close attention to observing this trial and the implementation of this service, because I think it has enormous application. I wish to close by saying that, in the fullness of time, Dr Rolf Gomes will be recognised as a pioneer in this very important space.