Thursday, 03 May 2018 09:51

No, Minister — Editorial

Written by 
Rural Communities Minister Damien O’Connor. Rural Communities Minister Damien O’Connor.

Let's hope there’s truth in the talk of a funding reprieve for the rural health body Rural Health Alliance Aotearoa NZ (RHAANZ).

Without it the organisation’s future is in jeopardy -- an outrage. Why Rural Communities Minister Damien O’Connor ever turned down the requested $600,000 to keep the five-year-old organisation alive is very hard to fathom.

In the large scheme of things $600,000 is not very much, probably far less than O’Connor’s vaunted Primary Industry Council (one of 75 Government-funded committees set up in the last six months) will cost each year. And certainly less than the minster has committed to restructuring and re-branding MPI. 

Both these government cash-gobblers will achieve much less ‘bang-for-bucks’ for the rural community than the RHAANZ with its modest budget need.

Similar rural health alliances in the US and Australia have run for decades on central government funding of the exact same activities for which RHAANZ is now applying to our Government. 

This penny-pinching decision reveals as empty rhetoric the coalition Government’s trumpeting of its concern for the regions and provinces.

RHHANZ chair Dr Martin London says the organisation has some options on the table and is now talking about restructuring rather than hibernation. That is good news but it should never have come to this stage. 

For five years, RHAANZ has got by on the smell of an oily rag and punched well above its weight. It has strong support in the rural community and has championed important causes in the sector such as rural mental health.

As the now out-of-work RHAANZ chief executive Michelle Thompson says: “RHAANZ’s financial situation is completely symbolic of the underfunding of rural health – full stop!”

RHAANZ’s work and importance to the rural community is summed up perfectly by Rural Women NZ board member and health portfolio convenor Margaret Pittaway: “It has had a dedicated team of passionate and loyal members to support it. Their efforts and support for rural NZ have been vital, and it is a worry that our rural communities may lose this.” 

Rural New Zealand cannot and should not lose this valuable resource; it is beyond time Minister O’Connor and his Government came to the party.

 

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