Travel is all in a day’s work for Lawrence Springborg

TIME OUT: Local member Lawrence Springborg sneaks in some down time on his health trek.
TIME OUT: Local member Lawrence Springborg sneaks in some down time on his health trek. Kirstin Payne

ON THE phone the tall silhouette of our local member paces back and forth across the Thargomindah tarmac, the only figure to cut through the strips of red and blue that make up the desert landscape.

From his home nestled in the heart of the Southern Downs to the wide expanses of western Queensland, Lawrence Springborg was on the road again to fulfil his responsibilities as the Minister for Health.

Between his weekly events in the electorate, parliament and family, Mr Springborg travels to hospitals in each corner of the state.

A cheery pilot by the name of John looks on to the lonely scene.

"I've been doing it for years so I have met a few; this minister is one of the good ones," he said.

While fixing his coffee John explained that when he wasn't flying ministers around the country he worked as a CareFlight volunteer.

"Flying pollies isn't too different to CareFlight, except pollies never get time to lie down in the back," he said with a laugh.

Back on the flight to another regional hospital, small talk quickly turned to farm talk for the Yelarbon-born minister who seemed as comfortable chatting about his 150 head of cattle as he was with government health policy.

Kicked in the ribs by a cow while working on his property six weeks ago, the minister was still joked with the group that he still had trouble getting comfortable.

"Just after it happened they got me to shear a sheep at the Warwick TAFE; I was in so much pain," he said.

"It was one of the hardest photos I've ever had to pose for," the minister laughed.

Lawrence Springborg takes on another press conference at Hervey Bay Hospital.
Lawrence Springborg takes on another press conference at Hervey Bay Hospital.

The down-to-earth amicability continued throughout the 12-hour day as he was shown through care facilities at hospitals in Hervey Bay, Maryborough, St George and more.

His RM Williams boots were a stark comparison to the heels and shined shoes of the journalists and hospital officials who walked with the minister down what could have been kilometres of hospital corridors that day.

Despite what one may assume about regional health in areas as remote as St George and Winton, doctors seemed content with the funding, their main concern instead was maintaining what they have and staff retention.

"I'm happy with what St George has, I think we are doing all right, we just need to keep things consistent," St George Hospital Medical Superintendent Cameron Bardsley said.

Dr Bardsley, himself just the fifth medical superintendant in the hospital's existence, said the longevity of the staff in the area was what hospitals needed.

As maintaining doctors in remote areas become more and more of a problem, medical leaders explore alternative employment options like fly-in three-week shifts.

"It's no more or less special than any country community but if you take the time to get to know it and become involved it's lovely," he said.

Telehealth which allows remote communities to contact specialists via video link also dominated the conversations of the day.

While the infrastructure had been in place for nearly a decade it was only now the hospitals had begun to use them regularly.

"For telehealth to work we need to make sure these are consistent, reliable and co-ordinated," Mr Springborg said.

That evening in St George, news of the assistant minister to health's sacking hit the headlines.

The phones of Mr Springborg and his media advisors light up and continue to ring into the night, none expect a good night's sleep.

Between meetings with local boards, nurses, doctors and the councils of each city visited, the Southern Downs local was in high demand.

At least one phone interview was made at each stop as media and policy advisor Clare Mildren answered emails and queries on the way.

"She is the life of the party, she keeps the media at bay, she's excellent," he said about Clare who had worked with him for two years.

"All my colleagues are, it's a very good and friendly office," he said.

When the phone calls died off and the local councillors headed home, the father-of-four finds a quiet spot to make his nightly call home.

He admits the travel does take its toll.

"I'm not caught up in the lifestyle that comes with it, the hotels and travel; it's not something that blows my hair back but I love meeting the people," he said.

The next morning the grind continued back in Brisbane at a press conference with the premier to discuss co-payments, doctors' contracts and shrinking waiting lists.

When asked how he deals with such a huge portfolio the minister replied: "It's like eating an elephant, just one bite at a time".

"I still get nervous," he said, with more than 20 years experience under his belt.

"My seat used to be a Labor seat and margins have been a lot less.

"It's a privilege representing the Southern Downs, if you're not nervous you're are taking things for granted."

Topics:  lawrence springborg mp

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