LA Trobe University’s long-running campaign to establish the Murray-Darling Medical School in Bendigo, Wagga Wagga, Albury-Wodonga and Orange appears set for a renewed pitch in the lead-up to this year’s federal budget.
The proposal has failed to find support for more than five years, but health minister Greg Hunt has outlined his plans to focus on rural health in the budget due in May.
The matter was also the focus of Senate Estimates last week, when the new minister for rural health Bridget McKenzie was questioned about the National Party’s support for the plan.
She would not confirm if the medical school was in the Coalition agreement, but described the proposal as a “grassroots policy proposal” for the National Party.
Senator McKenzie said it was one of a “range of initiatives” being considered to address the rural workforce maldistribution, but there were other policies that the government could also pursue.
“It is state governments that determine where the internship arrangements and training places are,” she said.
“Some do it better than others, but obviously at a Commonwealth level we're seeking to ensure that the maldistribution is addressed—doing everything we can.”
Labor Senator Murray Watt questioned Senator McKenzie about whether the school would face a renewed push following the ascension of Michael McCormack to the role of deputy prime minister.
Mr McCormack’s electorate of Riverina would benefit from the proposal and he has been a “strong advocate” for it for “many years”, Senator McKenzie said.
She was unaware if the school was a “personal priority” for the deputy prime minister.
During the hearing, health workforce division first assistant secretary David Hallinan said there had been “no consideration by government on that proposal” in relation to the Murray-Darling Medical School, but there had been reviews of undergraduate training arrangements.
The school is proposed to be co-hosted with Charles Sturt University, but has faced consistent opposition from the Australian Medical Students’ Association which believes it will not address the rural doctor shortage.
The AMSA released a statement outlining its concern about the Senate Estimates exchange, fearing the Murray-Darling Medical School could be back on the table.
“New medical schools are expensive, take years to produce doctors, and add to the numbers of medical school graduates when there are already more graduating medical students than available internships and vocational training positions,” the statement reads.