WATCH: PM says closing health gap is 'very high priority'
UPDATE 3.30PM: THE health issues affecting people living in regional Australia were a very high priority to the Australian Government, Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull insisted this morning.
The Prime Minister today responded to questions from The Morning Bulletin about the paper's Fair Go for the Regions campaign which show those living in the bush have worse health outcomes than the big cities.
He was reminded that people living in rural and regional Australia face shorter lifespans, exacerbated mental health issues, and higher death rates from chronic and avoidable diseases than their metropolitan counterparts. The figures show there is less medical intervention away from capital cities.
The Morning Bulletin asked Mr Turnbull if he believed it was fair that so many statistics, from health, wealth and education to life expectancy, were inferior for rural residents.
When asked to explain his government's plan to close this gap, Mr Turnbull said he had met with Rural Doctors Association of Australia president, Emerald GP Dr Ewan McPhee to discuss the issue.
He also cited his appointment of Dr David Gillespie as assistant minister for rural health.
"This is a very high priority," Mr Turnbull said.
"We're going to appoint a Rural Health Commissioner to make sure that we are constantly checking to deliver equality of treatment to people wherever they live in Australia.
"It is absolutely critical, I can't tell you how important it is.
"We're very keenly focused on it, I can assure you of that.
"Getting more doctors into regional Australia is vital too."
An ARM Newsdesk analysis of the Social Health Atlas of Australia this year revealed more people in Rockhampton smoked and drank alcohol to excess when compared with Brisbane.
More than a third of the city's population is obese, 8.7% higher than Brisbane's 22.5%.
The region's suicide rate is also well above Brisbane's, with 15.6 deaths per 100,000 residents between 2009 and 2012 compared to 11 deaths in the state capital.
Figures also show more people in Rockhampton are dying from avoidable cancers and heart disease, as well as recording higher blood pressure, diabetes and mental health problems.
Mr Turnbull later spoke about the importance of upgraded telecommunications in remote areas, which could benefit education and quality of life alongside delivering greater health care.
The Federal Government has committed to providing almost 500 new mobile phone towers under the first round of their black spot program in a bid to connect the bush.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said the government understood the concerns people had about the divide between city and bush.
"We'll focus on that and make sure we do our very best to give back to the Australian people the delivery of a service that's a reflection of the nation we live in," he said.
The Morning Bulletin also asked Mr Turnbull if the results of the government's attempts to reduce the health gap would be explained to the public.
"We explain everything to the public and we are accountable for all of those measures," he said, but did not have time to elaborate on how progress would be measured.
A Rural Health Commissioner was announced in June, but no start date or appointment has been made yet.
12PM: PRIME Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce have urged the Palaszczuk Government to get on with vital water infrastructure in Central Queensland.
Mr Turnbull was also put on the spot about what he would do for regional Queenslanders after the Morning Bulletin demanded a Fair Go for its readers.
In response to questions on closing the gap between rural and metropolitan areas, Mr Turnbull spoke about the work his government was doing with regional doctors to improve outcomes for people living outside major cities.
It follows the Bulletin running a front page cartoon depicting Mr Turnbull as a clown, an effort aimed at demanding the PM pay attention to the issues faced by regional Queenslanders.
It carried the headline: "Stop clowning around Malcolm".
Rockhampton mayor Margaret Strelow offered the Prime Minister a"grovelling apology".
Read about the Mayor's apology here: Mayor apologises to PM 'on behalf of our community'
In the editorial, the Bulletin put it to Mr Turnbull that "desperate times call for unusual tactics".
"And these are desperate times for regional Australia, particularly those communities smashed by the mining downturn in central Queensland," the newspaper said.
"Our people die earlier than your neighbours in Wentworth in Sydney.
"We are poorer, we have worse health outcomes and less employment opportunities ...
"So far your government has failed to demonstrate it has a coherent plan to move the dial.
"There are any number of reasons Pauline Hanson's One Nation party is surging in the polls in this area.
"A lack of faith our people have that the two main parties will make a difference is a key one of those."
The clown caricature was inspired by the New Zealand Herald's notorious cartoon which depicted Wallabies coach Michael Cheika as a clown, and created a widespread response.
While the visit to a Rockhampton farm focused mainly on building water infrastructure, including Rookwood Weir, Mr Turnbull and Mr Joyce also spoke about the importance of Adani's Charmichael Coal Mine to the region.
Mr Turnbull said the government's rollout of new phone towers and improved telecommunications in regional and rural Australia would also help improve health outcomes in those areas.
The pair also touched on paid parental leave.
More information to come.