Rural health, roads, councils could be hardest hit

THE rural health sector, struggling regional councils and aspiring university students could face the full force of the Abbott Government's Commission of Audit if the government acts on some key proposals.

Released Thursday, the audit report has recommended stripping back council funding and new $15 co-payments for Medicare services which would have a bigger impact on regional Australia.

The report recommended abolishing the Roads to Recovery funding - a key Commonwealth funding pool for regional areas - and local councils have already their concerns.

The government, if it decides to act on the audit's recommendations, will likely face a mass backlash on such proposals across health, councils, regional business and a raft of other sectors of society.

Rural Doctors Association of Australia vice-president John Hall said the new co-payment would result in "an entire segment of rural patients being less likely to seek timely medical care".

He said people in rural and regional Australia already had a greater burden of chronic disease and poorer health outcomes, and the proposal would only push more to emergency departments for help.

"These recommendations have been developed without considering the implications of the cascading impact of costs associated with decreasing access to primary health care," he said.

"Rural patients need more support, not less, to access a GP and they should not be left sitting in the dust after falling victim to poorly considered health reform."

The Australian Local Government Association also hit out at the report on Friday, saying it would basically end all federal funding for councils across Australia.

Their reaction also follows news that local government debt in Queensland will hit $7.1 billion in June this year, up from $1.8 billion in 2007 as they battle to find the money for urgent infrastructure upgrades.

In a newsletter to members on Friday, ALGA wrote the report also recommended slashing $2.2 billion in financial assistance grants and Regional Development Australia committees in a massive hit to rural areas.

"The end of the program, which was put in place almost 40 years ago, would have a catastrophic impact on the level of local infrastructure and services in every local community," the update reads.

"The end of the R2R program, which both major parties had promised to extend to 30 June 2019, would strip $350 million a year in road funding from local communities with potentially devastating consequences for productivity, road safety and general access, particularly in regional communities.

"The promised Bridges Renewal Program is also at risk under the Report's recommendations."


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