Nationals retain rural health in federal ministry reshuffle

Nationals retain rural health in federal ministry reshuffle

Parkes MP Mark Coulton is sworn in to the federal ministry by Australian Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove in Canberra last week. Photo by Lukas Coch.

Parkes MP Mark Coulton is sworn in to the federal ministry by Australian Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove in Canberra last week. Photo by Lukas Coch.


Parkes MP Mark Coulton confirms rural health is in his Regional Services, Decentralisation, Local Government and Assistant Trade Minister portfolio.


Nationals MP Mark Coulton has been confirmed as the federal government's new Rural Health Minister.

It was unclear who the government intended to manage the important regional portfolio when Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced his new ministry last week.

Rural health had been managed by Deputy Nats Leader Bridget McKenzie prior to the election, but she has vacated the ministry to take on the Agriculture portfolio.

It appeared the choice for a new minister was between Mr Coulton, who represents the vast inland NSW electorate of Parkes, or for the ministry to be folded back into the portfolio of Health Minister Greg Hunt, a Liberal MP who represents Flinders on Melbourne's south-eastern fringe.

Mr Coulton told this publication that while there was a "bit of miscommunication" during the ministerial reshuffle, the Nats were always going to retain rural health.

"It was always the intention of the PM and Deputy PM to have rural health in my portfolio," Mr Coulton said.

Mr Coulton's workload has increased significantly under the new government.

He has taken on his first ministerial portfolio, managing Regional Services, Decentralisation and Local Government.

Rural health comes under his regional services remit, which also includes regional telecommunications.


Mr Coulton also retains his role as Assistant Trade Minister, working under Trade Minister Simon Birmingham, who has also stayed in the same portfolio.

Rural Doctor's Association of Australia chief executive Peta Rutherford said while she was disappointed rural health was not a stand-alone portfolio, she looked forward to working with Mr Coulton.

"We are always concerned when rural health doesn't have its own portfolio," Ms Rutherford said.

"But the RDAA welcomes the appointment of Mark Coulton to the portfolio. I understand he has always been passionate about the provision of health services in his electorate and that is certainly something we can work with him on."

Last week RDAA president Dr Adam Coltzau said he was "very disappointed that rural health has again been denied a dedicated portfolio".

"Having a critical issue like rural health without a dedicated portfolio has a significant flow-on effect. It means that rural health is deemed not significant enough," Dr Coltzau said.

Mr Coulton said he should be judged on his performance in the portfolio, rather than his range of responsibilities.

"I've got a quite a mouthful in my job title, but I'd rather be judged by my actions and the way I approach the portfolio that what's in the title," he said.

Mr Coulton said Aboriginal health was "close to my heart and I'm passionate about it", as was improving generalist doctor training pathways, and creating new opportunities to expand the skills base of medical professionals in regional areas.

"I have been dealing with these issues for nearly 12 years as a MP and before that as a mayor," he said.

"I intend to not only deal with the issues that present themselves now, but also on policies that make a difference to the delivery of services in the future.

"There's no reason why we can't train oncologists, surgeons or other specialists in regional towns.

"I have some personal understanding of rural health, my second daughter is a GP practising in Tamworth (NSW)."

Mr Coulton was praised by the agriculture sector for his role, as Assistant Trade Minister, in helping to forge new trade links and to break down non-tariff barriers which can undermine profitability of exports even when there is a formalised trade agreement in place.

"I feel very comfortable in the trade portfolio, although I won't be able to do as much travel," Mr Coulton said.

"But I understand the role and have good relationships with the department and other ministers in the region."

Nationals Senator Fiona Nash was responsible for rural health when she was Assistant Health Minister from 2013 to 2015.

Starting in November 2015, Ms Nash became the inaugural Rural Health Minister, when it first became a standalone portfolio.

In July 2016 Rural Health was managed by an Assistant Minister again, when Nationals MP David Gillespie took on the role.

Then in December 2017 Nationals Deputy Leader Bridget McKenzie took charge of a reformed, stand-alone Rural Health Ministry.

Like Mr Coulton will now, Ms McKenzie managed rural health among a range of other responsibilities, when she served as Minister for Regional Services, Decentralisation and Local Government.


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