30th March 2022
After the recent Budget 2022, Frontier Services Responds. Frontier Services’ National Director, Jannine Jackson welcomes measures set forward in the 2022-2023 budget to support Australians living in rural and remote areas, particularly regarding ongoing commitments to improve mental health care, disaster relief and improvements to infrastructure.
The provision of over $245 million to residents in catastrophically impacted areas, along with $300 million allocated to the Emergency Response Fund, will make a meaningful difference in the immediate rebuilding of communities devastated by flooding. Some areas continue to suffer in the midst of their restoration efforts. Countless Australians living rurally and remotely have lost their homes, with many becoming submerged for a second time in recent days. Many farmers along the Eastern coast have had their livelihood compromised as their land continues to be inundated by water.
The government’s budget announcement also demonstrates a renewed commitment to mental health in some of the nation’s most isolated areas. Suicide in remote Australia remains an understated crisis, with rates roughly double that of metropolitan areas. Extended periods of isolation, financial hardship and social issues are all factors that contribute to this inflated statistic. Directly supporting mental health, with a targeted focus on suicide prevention in regional areas, is a welcome measure.
It ties in to a broader need for more skilled health professionals in rural and remote Australia, enabling better access to critical health care needs. Whether it be through digital mental health services (receiving $11.3 million in budget funding) or an expanded psychiatry workforce ($28.6 million), people living in regional, rural and remote Australia need more immediate access to mental health services.
This extends into basic healthcare needs, with remote health institutions being few and far between or under equipped to provide adequate service to meet the needs of patients. Frontier Services is relieved to see $43.3 million to continue key elements of the COVID-19 response to protect vulnerable rural, remote and Indigenous communities. Furthermore, a combined $55.4 million towards aeromedical services will help mitigate significant issues regarding access to healthcare.
There are major wins for remote areas that fall under what the Deputy Prime Minister describes as ‘nation-building infrastructure projects’. Over 11 years, $7.1 billion will go towards a new ‘Energy Security and Regional Development Plan’, with states and territories coordinating with one another, along with private companies, to invest in a number of major infrastructure projects in north and central Queensland, the Hunter in New South Wales, the Northern Territory and the Pilbara region of Western Australia.
Complementing this is $2 billion allocated towards a new “Regional Accelerator Program”, bringing together existing schemes lifting the education, work and welfare prospects of regional Australians. An extra $800 million in funding towards improving mobile phone coverage in the bush will also help to break down some of the obstacles to communication, coordination and isolation.
First Nations – Closing the Gap
It is pleasing to see that further funding has been set aside for an inclusive and cooperative approach to closing the gap for Indigenous Australians through $173.2 million over 2 years from 2022-23 to extend critical services offered under the National Partnership on the Northern Territory Remote Aboriginal Investment. However, of particular note is $636 million over six years to employ 1089 extra rangers in remote regions where there are limited job opportunities.