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A political life

Cate Swannell
Med J Aust || doi: 10.5694/mja17.1505C1
Published online: 15 May 2017

Dr Christian Rowan is an addiction specialist who has taken his skills to Parliament

DR CHRISTIAN Rowan has taken a different career path from most Australian-trained physicians. He is an addiction medicine specialist, but these days he practises just 6 hours a week.

That’s because Dr Rowan is the State Member for Moggill in the Queensland Parliament, Shadow Minister for the Environment and Heritage Protection, and Shadow Minister for National Parks and the Great Barrier Reef.

He is also the Patron and Chair of The School of Hard Knocks Council, Queensland, a current General Member of Anglican Overseas Aid, a former Ambassador, and former Deputy Chair of the Health, Communities, Disability Services, Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Committee.

When the MJA caught up with Dr Rowan he had just stepped off a plane at Proserpine Airport to meet up with the Member for Whitsunday, James Costigan, to inspect damage from the recent cyclone in north Queensland.

“It’s a busy life, but I always want to keep my registration up, so I make sure I do about 6 clinical hours a week,” Dr Rowan tells the MJA.

A University of Queensland graduate (1996), Dr Rowan spent his early medical career as Medical Superintendent of the hospitals in Biggenden and Mungindi, a small town straddling the Barwon River that makes up a stretch of the Queensland-New South Wales border.

Along the way he became a Fellow of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, a Fellow of the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine, and, for good measure, a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Medical Administrators.

He also has a Masters Degree in Diplomacy and Trade from Monash University (2002), in foreign affairs, public policy and international trade.

“I always knew I would move back to the city from the country,” Dr Rowan says. He also knew that he wouldn’t be a GP in the city. “Because of everything you do as a country doctor – the emergency medicine, the procedures, the broad nature of the work – I knew I needed to do something else.

“I looked at what opportunities were available to me, and what skills I had that I could build on.

“I had always had an interest in mental health and addiction medicine as a medical student through the exposure I got through various rotations.

“During my rural placement, I was treating many socio-economically disadvantaged patients, as well as Indigenous patients, and my interest in addiction medicine and dependency developed from that time.”

In 2005 he added a Fellowship of the Australasian Chapter of Addiction Medicine from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians to his collection.

“Addiction medicine is a broad specialty,” he says, explaining his enjoyment of the field.

“You come across many comorbidities, and there are social, psychological and public health aspects to it. It’s a very holistic specialty.”

Politics has also been a constant in Dr Rowan’s life.

“I was raised that way,” he says. “My parents were always interested in public policy debate and they raised me to be informed and engaged.

“I was involved in student politics at the University of Queensland and when I started working in medical administration I became interested in broader system governance, safety and quality issues, and risk management.”

As he was climbing the medical career ladder – he was the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Uniting Care Health, and the Director of Medical Services at St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital in Brisbane – he was also becoming more involved in medico-political debate, serving as president of both the Australian Medical Association’s Queensland branch, and the Rural Doctors Association of Queensland. He was a member of the Queensland Mental Health Commission’s Mental Health & Drug Advisory Council.

Big-stage politics beckoned and, on 31 January 2015, he was elected to Queensland Parliament as the Liberal National Party Member for Moggill, defeating the Labor candidate Louisa Pink with 58.2% of the two-party preferred vote after preferences.

In his maiden speech to Parliament, Dr Rowan highlighted the needs of rural medicine:

“Investing in our rural and regional health workforce and ensuring timely access and sustainable models of care need to be ongoing priorities of successive governments in Queensland. The extensive community role played by this workforce not only in delivering clinical services, but also by implementing public health strategies, facilitating broader economic development and maintaining social infrastructure is vitally important and cost effective.

“When I was 25 years of age, I was fortunate enough to be appointed the medical superintendent of Mungindi Hospital, which was a sole-doctor position. The formative professional experiences and the knowledge and skills I gained there dealing with the complexity of social and health issues affecting rural and remote Aboriginal communities also motivated me to seek public office.”

He also touched on the problems of mental health and substance dependency disorders:

“As an addiction medicine specialist, I have assisted some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our community, as well as those from higher socioeconomic backgrounds.

“While alcohol and tobacco consumption represent the greatest costs to our community in terms of morbidity and mortality and financial cost, I wish to highlight the public policy issues of illicit substance dependency, over-the-counter codeine misuse and the emergence of new synthetic drugs.

“In Queensland, likely cost impacts based on a population approximation method suggest that drug use costs our state in excess of $1.6 billion dollars per year. We must ensure that there is balanced state public investment in demand reduction and supply reduction strategies, as well as adequate availability and access to treatment services and harm-minimisation strategies to continue to reduce blood borne virus transmission.

“In relation to over-the-counter codeine-containing products and prescription analgesic medications, health professionals are assessing and treating increasing numbers of patients with dependency conditions necessitating a range of solutions, including an agreed cross-jurisdictional real-time electronic monitoring system recording the prescribing, supply and distribution of those products. The emergence of new synthetic drugs that mimic the effects of illicit drugs is of great concern to health professionals, parents, teachers, law enforcement officers and the community generally. The resultant physical and mental sequelae, including loss of life in some cases, as a result of the use of those substances requires a coordinated and multifaceted approach by government. Unfortunately, the internet has revolutionised access and availability and the exploitation of many young people.”

  • Cate Swannell


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