An already-battered federal government came under fire from one of its own this week, when Senator Barry O’Sullivan ramped up his campaign to reinstate vital funding for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
As part of its budget saving measures, the federal government cut the funding it makes available to the RFDS by $11 million, to $57m.
There was an expectation that the states would cover the shortfall but they refused to do so, bearing in mind that there has been a 70 year agreement for a 50-50 cost sharing agreement between federal and state governments for funding the aero-medical retrieval service.
The RFDS has recently written to the federal government, explaining that, although it has absorbed the loss this financial year without having to cut service delivery, this is not sustainable.
The letter said health initiatives would have to be cut.
“This is just unacceptable,” Mr O’Sullivan said.
“The RFDS runs 16,000-odd clinics in the bush, which are the only opportunity many people have to access medical help in those parts.
“I’m angry with my own government and I’ll persist until I get it restored.”
He said the matter had been brought to his attention by the former Member for Maranoa, Bruce Scott, now an RFDS Queensland board member.
The funding reduction has meant a loss of $2.6m to the Queensland section.
As well as strapping himself in to restore the $11m funding shortfall, Mr O’Sullivan wants to see the government permanently guarantee the $6m it made available for two years to cover RFDS dental clinics.
This runs out at the end of the 2017-18 financial year.
In the last financial year, the clinic treated 1490 people across 21 communities, from Camooweal to Cherbourg.
Mr O’Sullivan said he would be “progressively lifting his campaign” for $17m in additional funds to be provided to RFDS in the next budget, saying he had already been lobbying colleagues.
“I’m taking it to mayors in the bush and I’ll raise it in the Senate if I have to.
“I’ve had a promising response privately but I want to see the ink on the paper.
“The bush has been hurting for the past five or six years and any further reduction, particularly in life-giving health care, is unacceptable.”
He gave himself a “fair chance” of achieving his aims, saying the government had to justify what it had done.
“How can they justify something like this, where people are so far behind the eight-ball anyway,” he said.
The only comment made on the issue by RFDS CEO, Martin Laverty, was that the organisation was working in partnership with the Commonwealth to ensure it had all the resources it needed to deliver the best health care to country Australians.