Simon Birmingham: Thank you, thanks so very much for that welcome, and it’s a delight to be here with you all today. Thank you for accommodating my presence. Firstly I think accommodating me at somewhat sort notice in terms of the length of notice to visit Curtin altogether, and then of course even more short notice in terms of the relocation of proceedings from outside to this slightly more weather friendly environment. Can I commence by also acknowledging the [indistinct] people, the traditional owners of this part of Australia, and all of Australia’s Indigenous peoples. And as we’ve heard from the Minister for Education, particularly acknowledge that we continue to learn much of the knowledge of Australia’s traditional owners, learn much from them and of course build upon that knowledge into the future.
Vice Chancellor Deborah Terry, thank you very much for giving us the opportunity, giving me the opportunity to be here today and to share in this very special moment for the Bentley Campus with the opening of this new clinical school building. The smoking ceremony to be performed by Professor Simon Forrest, your Elder in Residence, who will declare this new building to welcome students firstly from the second semester this year and then of course medical students taking residence at the start of next year.
Those students were marking a good milestone for Curtin University. They will be the first school leaver students in Western Australia who will have the opportunity to move directly from school into an undergraduate medical degree here in WA. With support of the Australian Government, Curtin will enrol the first 60 new medical students next year, growing to 110 domestic students every year by 2022.
Currently, WA has fewer doctors per head of population than the rest of Australia, and an over-reliance on overseas trained doctors. Your medical school will help the number of doctors in WA to grow to meet the expanding healthcare needs quest. I’d like to particularly acknowledge the support of Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett for the Curtin Medical School, especially his commitment to provide ongoing funding for clinical trialling, internships and specialist training in places for the additional students and medical graduates that will result from this initiative. This only succeeds because it is a collaborative exercise, bringing together of course initiative and drive of Curtin University with the West Australian Government, Commonwealth Government and partner agencies to ensure its success.
The particular focus on students from regional and remote areas provides a wonderful opportunity to break through some of the barriers they face in accessing higher education, particularly in accessing higher education in the medical field. I commend Curtin’s medical school for tackling this issue head on by focusing on selecting students from non-metropolitan areas. International evidence shows that students who are recruited from rural, remote, lower SES and Indigenous communities, the areas where Australia has the most marked shortage of doctors, are more likely to return to practice in those locations when they complete their medical training.
The Curtin Medical School will train their students to meet the needs of these underserviced or disadvantaged communities in the areas of general practice and rural health, services that are vital in the bush. And just speaking before, the commencement proceedings [indistinct] about his experiences in opening the Gippsland [indistinct] Monash University, and their medical facility and the success that that has enjoyed in terms of retaining the students from rural and regional areas who have trained in rural and regional areas to work in rural and regional areas.
This innovative building on the medical campus where we are gathered here today will train students, as we heard, in the first three years of their new medical degree. After that I understand the university’s new Midland Campus will be the clinical base for medical students in the final two years of their course, with construction on that campus to start in 2017.
I hope and trust that perhaps I may have the chance to come back and visit Midland Campus when it’s becoming operational in 2019. As we approach those moments in the politicians’ life cycle called elections that tend to focus demand, you look optimistically to date some years hence, hope that your use by date will not have been breached prior to that time. But before I leave the microphone today, I have been given the privilege this morning of announcing the new chair of the medical school’s external advisory board – someone with great experience, I’m told, in the medical profession and in education and training – Adjunct Professor Janice Bell will make an excellent, excellent contribution to charting the path of the medical school and ensuring it gets to its vision – to serve rural and regional Western Australia, Indigenous Western Australians, and those from low SES backgrounds.
It is important that we have practitioners who will serve those communities and be attuned to the regional and cultural sensitivities that medical providers need to bring. Adjunct Professor Bell also chairs the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners’ Expert Committee on Post-Fellowship Education, and she’s very much involved in rural and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.
Congratulations and thank you Janice for taking on this role and to Curtin University on this appointment. This is a development of which the university can rightly be proud, on which the university community is obviously building its place here on this campus, and with other campus to really cement the opportunities for students, but most importantly, the role that those students will play in servicing the West Australian community in the years to come, providing essential services and providing support WA to continuing to grow and thrive as a wonderful place to live.
It’s a delight to be with you all, to share in this wonderful event today and to offer my most personal, but also the Government’s congratulations for the success you’ve had today. Thanks so very much.