Lips zipped on school

By Country News

The Nationals deputy leader will not say whether a proposed medical school in the Murray Darling region is part of a secret Coalition agreement.

But Senator Bridget McKenzie did confirm new leader Michael McCormack had been a ‘‘strong advocate’’ of the school, being pursued by Charles Sturt and La Trobe universities.

If it eventuated it would see a new campus in his electorate.

However, she insists that has been a matter of public knowledge and the school has been talked about for years.

Asked to confirm whether the school was part of the coalition agreement, signed by Malcolm Turnbull and Mr McCormack last week, she said: ‘‘I can’t confirm that.’’

It had been public knowledge for many years the school was grassroots National Party policy, she said.

Labor questioned why the party was pursuing the school when deans and students were saying there were not enough places for medical graduates already.

Senator McKenzie agreed not all medical graduates were being dispersed into areas where they were needed, blaming state governments, which oversaw internship programs.

‘‘I can absolutely guarantee you our priority is to address maldistribution,’’ she said.

The deputy leader’s predecessor Fiona Nash on Wednesday took up a new job with Charles Sturt University, but Senator McKenzie later denied she would be breaching lobbying rules regarding former ministers.

‘‘I have every confidence that Fiona will adhere to those rules,’’ she told the committee.

Ms Nash was minister for rural health until July 2016.

Charles Sturt University and La Trobe University are proposing the school with campuses in Orange, Wagga Wagga and Bendigo.

The Australian Medical Students’ Association again argued the school would not fix the workforce issues facing the sector.

Its president Alex Farrell said new schools took years to produce doctors and added to the numbers of graduates when there were already more students than available internships.

‘‘Announcing a new medical school is politically attractive, but it is a short- sighted waste of taxpayer money,’’ Mr Farrell said.