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Our doctor in the house

Earlier this month, I was honoured to have been re-sworn in at Government House with the new title of “Assistant Minister for Health.” Alongside my new ministerial colleagues, Greg Hunt and Ken Wyatt – it was a momentous occasion and a privilege to be forming a new Health Ministers team with Ken being the first Indigenous MP to be elected to the House of Representatives and appointed to the Ministry. 

You may notice that my title has changed from Assistant Minister for Rural Health to the Assistant Minister for Health. While I’ve lost a word in the title, the same can’t be said of any of my portfolio responsibilities – in fact it’s quite the opposite. This new title means that I’ve expanded my workload and I’m looking forward to working with the Minister for Health and the Minister for Aged Care and Indigenous Health across a number of policy areas to ensure Australia’s health system continues to lead the world in health care delivery, health innovation and research.

I also have responsibility for Australia’s food safety policy and regulation as we continue to tackle our nation’s obesity epidemic. Reflecting on my experience as a health professional, I have always suggested to my patients when discussing diet that fresh is best. If you are eating food that you pull out of the ground or off a tree, is harvested and unprocessed or runs, jumps, swims or flies, it is generally pretty healthy. If a hen lays it, it is good; if an animal lays it, it is good. If you get it out of a shiny silver pack or a cardboard box, it has usually been processed.  Australia’s has one of the highest rates of obesity in the world, and we must encourage Australians, especially those in regional, rural and remote areas, to eat a more balanced diet.  I will be promoting the Government’s Health Star Rating System on packaged foods that offers a quick and easy guide to help Australians make informed choices.

The Government is also making a significant investment in a national tobacco campaign, Don’t Make Smokes Your Story, which aims to highlights the support services available such as Quitline, the My QuitBuddy app and the Quitnow website.  The campaign is due to commence in February and is expected to have a strong focus on regional and remote areas due to the higher prevalence of smoking in these areas.  I will also being taking responsibility and introducing reforms to the regulation of industrial chemicals so that the assessment efforts would be more proportionate to the risks posed by industrial chemicals, while maintaining Australia’s robust safety standards.  

Of course, being a champion of Government for regional and rural health will remain my main priority and my appointment will ensure it continues to remain ‘front and centre’ of the government’s agenda in the health portfolio. It was an historic and significant achievement for the Nationals, and the Coalition, to introduce Rural Health to the Ministry and soon I will be delighted to introduce legislation, and then appoint, Australia’s first Rural Health Commissioner.  Together, the Commissioner and I will be working hard to introduce a suite of national reforms to modernise our health system and workforce to ensure it remains sustainable in the 21st century.

caption: Minister Dr David Gillespie, wife Charlotte and son Oliver.  

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