Regional Victoria will be pivotal to both sides as campaigning escalates ahead of the November 24 state election.
However, by putting health – and in particular regional health – at the centre of its pitch, Labor has shown it understands just how important this issue is to families across our state.
As Daniel Andrews, a Wangaratta boy himself, has said: the further you go from the city, the more critical government services and supports are.
That’s true today, and it was true 20 years ago too.
Back in 1999, we came to office after seven years under the Kennett Liberals – and we found Victoria’s hospital system in disarray.
More than 1000 hospital beds had been closed, 331 of them in rural Victoria.
And although it hurt patients across our suburbs and our state, I believe the deepest impact was felt by those in our regional communities.
Rebuilding our state’s healthcare system from the ground up was no easy feat.
But with real investments in our hospitals, we did it.
When the Andrews team came to government in 2014, they faced that very same challenge.
And, just as we did, the Andrews government has dedicated every day to making sure patients in country communities are getting the care they need.
In Ballarat, my own home town, the base hospital is being rebuilt.
Families in Wonthaggi will also benefit from an expanded local hospital.
Bendigo is now the proud home of a new hospital, opened last year.
And from Mildura to Gelantipy, dozens of local health services are benefiting from Labor’s Regional Health Infrastructure Fund – the largest of its kind in Victoria’s history.
But when it comes to reliable healthcare for country communities, there will always be more to do.
Labor’s recent promise to invest in 1100 more nurses and midwives will make a real difference to local families.
Labor has committed to undertaking Australia’s first Royal Commission into mental health. The commission will be tasked with examining Victoria’s mental health system from the ground up. It will look at early intervention, community services and how families can be better assisted. Most importantly, it will help save lives.
So will Labor’s commitment to upgrade ambulance stations and deliver new vehicles and extra paramedics across the state.
However, for me, the most profound difference will be the 500,000 medical specialist appointments dedicated to regional patients.
For patients with a heart condition, chronic pain, arthritis or cancer, it will mean they can see a specialist in their very own community.
No more long trips to Melbourne. And no more out-of-pocket expenses for pricey private specialist appointments.
But of course, your health isn’t just physical.
Right now, millions and millions of Australians are struggling with a mental health condition.
And last year, nearly two Victorians took their own lives every single day.
Despite the best efforts of our hard-working mental health professionals, it’s clear the system is not working.
That needs to change. And, under a re-elected Labor government, it will.
Labor has committed to undertaking Australia’s first Royal Commission into mental health.
The commission will be tasked with examining Victoria’s mental health system from the ground up.
It will look at early intervention, community services and how families can be better assisted. Most importantly, it will help save lives.
Whether it’s more nurses, more paramedics, better hospitals or a stronger mental health system, Labor’s mission is clear: delivering for every Victorian, wherever they happen to live.
Ballarat-born Steve Bracks was Premier of Victoria from 1999 to 2007. He and Warrnambool-based former Liberal Premier Dr Denis Napthine are writing exclusively for Australian Community Media newspapers throughout the 2018 state election campaign.