Mark Burdack was appointed as the CEO of The healthy Communities Foundation Australia (formerly Rural and Remote Medical Services) in late 2019 following the departure of Shane Hatton.
Mark’s has a diverse background in public administration, higher education and regional economic development.
He started his career with the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board Attorney including periods acting as the Senior Conciliation Officer and Manager of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Outreach Program.
He progressed through various leadership roles in the NSW Attorney General’s Department before being appointed Foundation Director of LawAccess NSW, an initiative to expand equitable access to legal assistance services to people across NSW particularly in rural and remote communities.
The 2014 Producivity Commission report on Access to Justice Arrangements singled out the LawAccess model as an exemplar for improving access to legal services that should be adopted in every Australia state and territory.
In 2003 he relocated to Orange with his wife and young family taking up a role with Charles Sturt University to help refresh university governance. His role was quickly expanded to encompass media, community relations and regional economic development.
He was appointed to lead a number of significant strategic projects for the University including the establishment of a rural dental school and the Murray Darling Medical School, both successfully delivered.
Over his career he has been a member of the Advisory Board on Legal Information of the State Library of NSW, a member of the Metadata Standards committee of the Australian Law Council, a director of the Australian Fossils and Minerals Museum, a Ministerial Appointment to Regional Development Australia Central West NSW and Chair of the Western Research Institute.
He spent a short but productive period in local government developing and delivering the region’s 20 year social and economic plan called ‘Activate Orange’ which encompassed a complete roadmap for infrastructure, job creation and development built around the town‘s core strengths.
Mark came to the role of CEO at a time of significant change in rural and remote health.
Despite the fact that the THCFA model has been shown by research and practice to solve many of the problems of attracting and retaining medical and health workforce in rural and remote towns, the model has never been adopted more broadly by government.
The Board of THCFA was of the view that the next CEO needed to be someone with the capacity to help get a positive message out and who had a background in delivering successful public policy change for rural and regional communities.
Mark also stood out because he did not come from within the health and hospital sector and could provide a fresh perspective.
He abhors the word “complex” as an excuse for inaction.
“Sending humans to the moon was complex, but it didn’t stop us from doing it. I get sick of people telling me things are ‘complex’ as a way of avoiding responsibility for tackling the big problems” he said.
In getting a dental and medical school in regional Australia, Mark had to engage powerful industry lobbies adamantly opposed to the idea of a regional university delivering a rural dental and medical curriculum for rural and regional students, despite all the evidence showing that “train in the bush, retain in the bush” was the only viable approach to addressing health workforce shortages.
The Board felt that Mark’s ability to play ”the long game”, and to bring a fresh and pragmatic perspective from outside the sector, was the right person for the right time.
Mark Burdack said:
”The biggest problem I have always found in public policy is how the needs of vulnerable people are too often contorted to achieve other ends. This is rarely intentional. It is the consequence of the lack of a clear Theory of Change and program logic to support decision making that allows the policy focus to shift rapidly, but often imperceptibly, away from core goals.
”As an outsider, I was frankly shocked and ashamed at the state of rural and remote health, how compromised our policy framework has become and how much money we are wasting on things that could be invested in better health care.
“Solving rural and remote health is not really all that complicated. The complication arises because we have allowed ourselves to piggy back other institutional goals onto rural and remote health that have nothing to do with improving access to health care.
“There are far too many vested interests at the table, and too little engagement with the only people who should matter - residents of rural and remote communities.
”Humphries and Wakerman have argued that too much of our rural and remote health policy is a reaction to a political crisis and not a systemic response based on clear goals and evidence. From my experience to date, they are spot on.
”The result is ad hoc programs, not systemic, coordinated and coherent policy solution.
”I am not from rural or remote Australia, I live in Orange. I remember a meeting with a local community I attended early on. I gave then my background as an intro telling them my Mum’s family were from Coonamble and my Dad’s family was from Narrandera. I thought I could create a sense of affinity with the needs of rural and remote people. I’m on you side sort of thing.
”Some bloke up the back of the room yelled out ‘You should be a bloody politician. They all tell us how their family came from the bush too, but that doesn’t make ‘em one of us’.
”I thought this was brilliant. I want to have honest discussions with rural and remote people, and I want to be able to speak truthfully about rural and remote health.
“An old colleague of mine from my days in Attorney General’s wrote on a card when I left that I was ‘forceful and relentless’. He meant it as a compliment by the way.
“The status quo ain‘t working, so I am going to challenge the status quo. That’s what we should all be doing.
“People are getting sick and dying because we don’t have a plan that is working. This is not about creating a sense of urgency by manufacturing a crisis, it is about recognising that there is a crisis and we need urgent action that is focussed on clear goals, evidence and delivering clear outcomes.
“Don’t get me wrong, I worked for government for a decade and I love efficiency and effectiveness. I hate the waste of public money as much as every other taxpayer, and I see so much waste of money in rural and remote service delivery it would make your eyes water.
”If you want to spend millions on a program that achieves nothing or very little, give the money to rural and remote communities to create local jobs. We could then at least say we are tackling one of the key social determinants of health - unemployment.
“I don’t question that everyone is in this to get better outcomes for rural and remote people, but that should drive us to demand honesty of each other. You can spend time massaging my ego if you like, and I could do the same, but I would prefer to get the point and then work towards a solution“.
Selfie outside the Yaamaganu Gallery in Mooree which is an initiative of the Aboriginal Employment Service. One of the best galleries in NSW for Aboriginal art, you can have a really nice meal next door at the cafe which is a training centre for young Aboriginal people for the hospitality industry. See the Gallery at: http://yaamaganu.com.au/
For more information drop Mark an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.