Independent candidate for Nicholls Rob Priestly, centre, pledged to make health a priority if elected this weekend. He is pictured with, from left, Mitchell Shire councillors Fiona Stevens, Bill Chisholm and Rhonda Sanderson, and Goulburn Regional Partnership chair Stuart Locke. ​

By Colin MacGillivray

INDEPENDENT candidate for Nicholls Rob Priestly made health a focal point of his campaign last week, announcing he would push to fund a proposed Seymour Community Wellbeing Hub and introduce a set of minimum health service standards across regional Australia.

If elected, Mr Priestly said he would seek to introduce a set of minimum service standards by benchmarking rural health service provision against metropolitan provision and providing minimum service-to-population ratios.

He said with the odds of a hung parliament at this weekend’s election growing larger, it would give him leverage to introduce health reform if elected.

Mr Priestly said whatever party formed government, he would advocate for health services in the electorate.

“Governments of all persuasions have been able to get away with ignoring the shortages in regional communities. This will help highlight those shortages and put more pressure on them,” he said.

“If we have a Liberal majority, the Liberal-Nationals are going to work very hard in this electorate to win the seat back.

“If it’s a hung parliament, obviously we have a lot of persuasive power in that environment, and if it’s a Labor government, I’m going to have a better opportunity to engage with them than a Liberal or Nationals candidate.”

Mr Priestly said regional health services faced an impending crisis if the government was unable to find a way to attract more GPs, mental health practitioners and other allied health professionals to country areas.

“[The situation is] bad now and we are just about to go off a cliff edge. We’ve got a generation of GPs who are about to retire locally and we simply don’t have the replacements in the pipeline,” he said.

“That means more [locum doctors] and more bulk-billing short-session GPs. That’s fine if you’ve got tonsillitis but many in our community have chronic illness. You need a relationship with your GP where you can be going back and making a plan about dealing with those health issues.

“That simply doesn’t work in a locum environment. It’s substandard care and it’s not what we deserve.”

Mr Priestly also committed to funding the Seymour Community Wellbeing Hub, a pledge also made by Nationals candidate Sam Birrell and Liberal candidate Steve Brooks.

The $23 million hub was described by Mitchell Shire Mayor Bill Chisholm as the most vital infrastructure project across the shire’s north.

Mr Priestly said many in the Seymour community also wanted the hub built.

“I’ve been quite surprised about how many community members have spontaneously raised [the hub] with me,” he said.

“It’s not that the government doesn’t know about these projects, they’re just not funding them. My role is to provide the political tension so that we start to see the love and affection we need.”

Cr Chisholm thanked Mr Priestly for committing to funding the hub.

“It’s really important that we’ve got major political parties as well as independents on board,” he said.

“We know if [Rob] makes it to Canberra he’ll be fighting for Mitchell Shire and it’s critical that we get this hub up and running.”