Many Queensland rural communities are facing a crisis that is causing as much anguish as the current drought — and it is being largely ignored by the urban press.
The forced amalgamations of Queensland rural shires will change forever the tradition of small rural communities having control over their local environment. Yet, despite all the protests and the haste with which these changes are being pushed through, there seems to remarkably little analysis or comment in the media.
It is ironic that the Queensland Government has just announced a big increase in mental health funding. Rural communities already struggling with drought, will now have to deal with the loss of their local shires and the possible consequences of job losses and the knock-on effect on local businesses.
Many rural shires own health facilities and deliver health services, something the Beattie Government seems to have forgotten in its unseemly haste to force through the amalgamations.
The Diamantina Shire, which covers thousands of square kilometers, was able to build a new clinic in Birdsville largely funded by the Commonwealth and the shire, with a modest contribution from Queensland Health.
Other shires such as Cloncurry and McKinley have successfully invested funds in medical infrastructure such as clinics or housing to attract rural doctors to their communities. Health Minister Stephen Robertson certainly seemed very surprised when reminded of this fact at the recent RDAQ conference in Yepoon.
Towns such as Blackall and Richmond may be merged with shires that have council offices hundreds of kilometers from their communities and are vehemently opposed to such a move, but feel they are being ignored by the Beattie Government.
The past 20 years of increasing centralisation of health management, including the loss of the once-influential local hospital boards, has seen a relentless deterioration in medical services. The loss of surgical and obstetric services sees an increasing number of patients travelling thousands of kilometers for treatment in coastal centres. Why should rural communities have any faith in the Beattie promises that shire amalgamations will lead to better services?