National Rural Health Commissioner

Page last updated: 16 July 2021

Role of the National Rural Health Commissioner

The Commissioner Office was established as part of the Government’s broader agenda to reform rural health in Australia, and provides policy advice to the Minister responsible for rural health.

Professor Ruth Stewart

The National Rural Health Commissioner (the Commissioner), Professor Ruth Stewart, is an independent, statutory office holder, appointed under Part VA of the Health Insurance Act 1973 (the Act).

She replaces Emeritus Professor Paul Worley, who was the inaugural National Rural Health Commissioner and served in the role from November 2017.

The Commissioner Office works with regional, rural and remote communities, the health sector, universities, specialist training colleges and across all levels of government to improve rural health policies and ensure there remains a strong focus on the needs of rural communities. 

Since it was established in November 2017, the Office has become an important part of our Government’s approach to improving rural health outcomes.

Professor Stewart’s Office will include Deputy Commissioners who will support the Commissioner and provide expertise across a range of vital rural health disciplines such as nursing, allied health and Indigenous Health.

The Office will contribute to significant health reforms already under way, including in primary health care reforms, workforce and training.

The Office will drive innovation, with a clear focus on supporting on-the-ground improvements.

As part of the legislative requirements under the Act, the Commissioner Office will prepare and present to the Minister reports that include advice and recommendations. The Commissioner Office will also prepare and give to the Minister annual reports about its functions during the previous calendar year.

A Statement of Expectations from the former Minister for Regional Health, Regional Communications and Local Government, the Hon Mark Coulton MP, outlines the commissioner’s roles and responsibilities in improving rural health outcomes to 30 June 2022. The Commissioner’s Statement of Intent outlines her approach to achieving the goals and priorities set by the Minister and is the Commissioner’s formal response to the Statement of Expectations.

Statement of Expectations (PDF 92 KB)

Deputy Commissioners – Associate Professor Dr Faye McMillan AM and Adjunct Professor Shelley Nowlan

Statement of Intent Associate Professor Dr Faye McMillan (PDF 119 KB)

Statement of Intent Associate Professor Dr Faye McMillan (Word 41 KB)

Statement of intent Adjunct Professor Shelley Nowlan (Word 39 KB)

Statement of intent Adjunct Professor Shelley Nowlan (PDF 156 KB)

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Engagement

The Commissioner and the Department of Health are strongly committed to working in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforces, health workers practitioners and supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health outcomes.

The Commissioner and the Office meets regularly with several key Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representative bodies including the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association (AIDA), Indigenous Allied Health Australia (IAHA), National Association of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers and Practitioners (NAATSIHWP) and National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) to ensure the views and expertise of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health organisations is heard by the Commissioner and incorporated into the work of the Office.

Our Reconciliation Statement reflects our commitment and dedication to work on Closing The Gap in life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People by 2033, increase the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander babies with a healthy birth weight to 91 per cent by 2031 and work to a significant and sustained reduction in suicide of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people towards zero.

Read our Statement of Reconciliation

Current Work

The office is supporting the Government’s ongoing rural response to COVID-19 and to advise on the impact on the health workforce in regional, rural and remote communities.

The Commissioner will also continue to provide advice on the roll out of the National Rural Generalist Pathway as well as work with the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners towards recognition of Rural Generalist Medicine as a distinct field of practice.

The Commissioner is working with regions to support the development of ‘trial ready’ localised innovative models of care through the Primary care Rural Innovative Multidisciplinary Models (PRIMM) grants.

For more information and register to receive updates regarding future funding rounds, search ‘PRIMM’ on GrantConnect.

Workshop on Rural Allied Health Service and Learning Consortia

Image (left to right): West Coast Council General Manager David Midson, Deputy National Rural Health Commissioner Associate Professor Dr Faye McMillan, Commonwealth Chief Allied Health Officer Dr Anne-marie Boxall, Workshop Facilitator Professor Sabina Kn

On 1 June 2021, the Commonwealth Chief Allied Health Officer (CAHO), Dr Anne-marie Boxall, the National Rural Health Commissioner, Adjunct Professor Ruth Stewart, and the Deputy National Rural Health Commissioner, Associate Professor Faye McMillan convened a workshop in Queenstown, Tasmania to explore the Service and Learning Consortia (SLC) recommendation from the former Commissioner Professor Paul Worley’s 2020 allied health report: Improving the access, quality and distribution of allied health services in regional, rural and remote Australia.

The workshop brought together more than 90 stakeholders from all over Australia, including but not limited to: representatives from Commonwealth, state and territory Departments of Health, Education and Disability; University Departments of Rural Health; allied health peak bodies; consumer representatives; and individual health professionals. Participants attended virtually or in person, with the event being generously hosted by the West Coast Council of Tasmania and facilitated by Professor Sabina Knight, James Cook University, Centre for Rural and Remote Health.

To continue the conversations that began at the workshop Deputy National Rural Health Commissioner, A/Professor Faye McMillan will continue work with the CAHO and meet with rural health representative groups such as the National Rural Health Alliance, professional allied health associations and member organisations of the Australian Allied Health Leadership Forum, including Services for Australian Rural and Remote Allied Health, Indigenous Allied Health Australia, and the National Allied Health Advisors and Chief Officers to further explore opportunities to improve access to allied health services in rural Australia.

See more details below.

Communique: Workshop on Rural Allied Health Service and Learning Consortia (PDF 676 KB)
Communique: Workshop on Rural Allied Health Service and Learning Consortia (Word 610 KB)

Legislation

The National Rural Health Commissioner is appointed under Part VA of the Health Insurance Act 1973.

What the Commissioner Office does not do

The Commissioner Office does not get involved in individual cases or advocate for individual people or groups. Instead the Commissioner Office will champion rural health, advocate for system wide improvement in achieving rural health outcomes for regional, rural and remote communities of Australia.

The Commissioner Office is not a fund holding body.  It does not provide services, grants or funding for unsolicited projects or campaigns.

Media, submissions and editorials

Media Engagement

The Commissioner has accepted a number of high-profile media invitations to promote and increase the awareness of rural generalism and multidisciplinary rural health teams to the broader Australian public. The Commissioner’s appearances include (but are not limited to):

National Rural Press Club – Rural Maternity Services in Australia. Presented Tuesday 17 November 2020

ABC Landline - Significant rural health reforms and the role of Rural Generalists. Aired Sunday 21 February 2021

ABC The Drum – Special Rural Health Report. Aired Thursday 29 April 2021

Submissions

As part of the Commissioner’s engagement with the broader health and education sectors she and has authored several articles and submissions. This work includes:

National Rural Health Commissioner Submission to the New South Wales Parliament Portfolio Committee No. 2 Inquiry into health outcomes and access to health and hospital services in regional, rural and remote New South Wales

National Rural Health Commissioner Submission to Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists supporting regional, rural and remote psychiatry training

National Rural Health Commissioner Submission to the Government of South Australia on Consultation Draft Rural Workforce Plan for Allied Health

National Rural Health Commissioner Submission to the Government of South Australia on Consultation Draft Rural Workforce Plan for Nursing and Midwifery

National Rural Health Commissioner Submission to the Our Healthcare Future Immediate Actions and Consultation Paper Tasmanian Government

Previous Commissioner Publications

The following list of publications were developed under the previous Commissioner, Emeritus Professor Paul Worley

Previous National Rural Health Commissioner Publications.


    In this section