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Healthy and productive collaboration

Merrin J Brown

Futureprofit, Dept. Primary Industries, PO Box 102, Toowoomba, Qld.

The Department of Primary Industries, Queensland Health and Farmsafe Qld (Dept. of Industrial Relations) working together to improve the wellbeing, health and safety of rural people.


Extension principles and processes have formed the basis for a collaborative project being undertaken between the DPI, Qld. Health and Farmsafe Qld. (Dept. of Industrial Relations). These three Government departments are planning a joint project whereby new products and services will be developed and delivered to rural Queenslanders. The specific aims of such collaboration include:

  • Increase the capacity of rural communities to take up opportunities through the enhancement of wellbeing, health and safety.
  • Develop and pilot, within a defined geographic area, a framework through which to improve the capacity of the Department of Primary Industries to build social capital in rural communities through a joint project with:

- The Health Department (on specific health matters such as Mental Health, Stress and Zoonotic diseases)

- Farmsafe Qld. (Health and Safety risk management)

Specific objectives of this project include:

1. Individuals applying principles of wellbeing personally and within their communities

  • Raise awareness of the need to consider wellbeing
  • Enable individuals to internalise and express their personal meaning of wellbeing
  • Support individuals as they apply principles of well being
  • Support individuals as they take steps to enable their community

2. Improve the dynamics and synergy between agencies

  • Raise awareness in relevant agencies of the importance of wellbeing
  • Develop an effective communication strategy to facilitate transfer and sharing of information and resources
  • Collaboratively develop, fund and deliver project
  • Create service opportunities for relevant agencies exposed to new client groups
  • Develop enabling, mediation and advocating efficiencies

3. Communities taking responsibility

  • Scope project with community for their input
  • Motivate community action
  • Empower communities to take responsibility towards creating their own future.


The Futureprofit program was designed to assist Queensland’s primary producers to manage change and strengthen their decision-making ability. Futureprofit is a planning process that helps primary producers to secure their long-term viability and sustainability, and ultimately achieve their goals (Leadership & Strategic Management 1998). However, research has shown that business planning and economic strategies are less likely to have effect if social and community needs are ignored (Tonts and Jones 1996). I believe that by focusing more on the wellbeing needs of producers and consequently building their individual capacity, we can help them to achieve more for themselves and for their communities.

After initial discussions with officers from Qld. Health, Farmsafe Qld. and the DPI, it became obvious that much of our work overlaps and we share a common vision for the people of rural Queensland. The Jakarta Declaration on Leading Health Promotion into the 21st Century (1997), states that “Health promotion is a key investment – health is a basic human right and is essential for social and economic development.” Farmsafe (2000) states that “Accidents and injury are costing farmers dearly and their industry dearly. In addition to the pain and suffering and loss of wellbeing caused by injury and illness, agricultural enterprises are facing an increasing financial burden.”

The situation today

Rural communities within Australia have experienced profound economic and social changes during the last three decades. Problems such as declining farm incomes, farm amalgamation and enlargement and migration of the agricultural population out of rural areas are seriously undermining the economic and social viability of many small rural towns which service the agricultural sector (Tonts 2000). Many country towns in rural Australia have experienced a contraction of local economic activity, rising unemployment, depopulation and the breakdown of local social institutions and networks. There has also been a shift towards the market led allocation of resources which has resulted in the rationalisation and withdrawal of many public services from small and declining rural communities. In order to achieve goals of economic efficiency, many basic public services, including schools and hospitals in rural areas with low and often declining populations have been downgraded or closed. This continues to occur despite the lower health, education and welfare status of rural people (Black et al 2000). Jones and Alexander (1998) agree that more and more public services, and the consequent employment and development that they generate, are being concentrated into larger regional centres to the detriment of rural areas. Tonts (2000) points out that while such centralisation might be seen as an efficient market response that enables operating, administrative and overhead costs to be reduced, the social and economic costs that are borne by rural people are often ignored.

However, this is not the only issue impacting on the lives of rural Australians. Reeves & Curthoys (2000) state that primary producers in Queensland are facing increasing debt levels which are having implications for the viability of farm businesses, especially when one considers the declining terms of trade for farmers and the unfavourable weather conditions experienced over the last decade. All of these factors combined result in the presence of many stresses in rural communities, a fact which the activities of the DPI Farm Financial Service, Qld Rural Adjustment Authority, Rural Support Workers and a range of community groups active in meeting the needs of rural communities have indicated. The social implications of drought alone are enormous, as relentless and prolonged dry weather produces a severe financial crisis for many farmers, which then creates a stressful environment for all those living in rural communities (Stehlik, Gray, and Lawrence 1999).

Farmers may implement many different strategies in an effort to alleviate tension and reduce the risk associated with these trends including increasing the scale of operations, adopting new technology, improving production systems, and/or diversifying the commodities produced on farm. Some farm businesses are unable to survive in such a tempestuous environment and properties have to be sold up, while others continue to battle. In the context of this continuous change, the health and safety of individuals, workers and family members may become a lower priority (Frager et al 1999).

Figure 1. Farm performance (Farmstats Australia ABARE 2000).

Social capital

The situation in rural Australia is further exacerbated by the apparent dislocation of social policy from economic policy which is seen as a primary factor in the severe rural decline evidenced today (Lawrence 1995, Rees 1996 and Sher and Sher 1994). In order to assist rural people to cope with the barrage of change and be proactive in working for the survival and sustainability of their communities, a greater emphasis on social capital is required. Putnam (1993), a key author on social capital, defines it as “the features of social organisations such as networks, norms and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit.” Some of the characteristics of social capital such as trust, social cohesion, stability, and a sense of security and of belonging have been used to encourage decision-makers to consider the social implications of economic decisions.

Social capital is a key element of this project because as Putnam (1993) says, reserves of social trust, norms and networks form an important foundation for people to draw upon in order to work together to solve common problems. This leading author on the subject further states that networks of civic engagement, such as neighbourhood associations, sporting clubs and cooperatives are an essential form of social capital, but membership in these is declining. If the networks do increase in density, the likelihood of members of a community cooperating for mutual benefit substantially increases (CPN 2001). In order for social capital stocks to be sustained in a community, there needs to be a sense of personal and collective efficacy that results from people being proactive (Bullen 1999). The fact that the development of social capital requires the active and willing engagement of citizens within a participative community, means that people need to be feeling positive and confident; creators of a positive future for themselves, not victims of the present rural decline.

Change management

As Australia struggles with the present rural crisis, the importance of being a good farm business manager moves further away from questions of prosperity to questions pertaining to mere survival. Smith (1988) believes that the people who will emerge from the crisis stronger than they were when it started, are those who can best manage their resources. Mills (1996) has also highlighted two factors considered essential to continued survival of Australia’s rural industries: the need for change and the acceptance of such change. Indications are that the ability of individuals to acknowledge the need for change and cope with the changes occurring in our society is influenced by their level of health and wellbeing. A person, who has sound thoughts, emotions and behaviours, that is to say, in good mental health, is generally able to handle day to day events and obstacles, work towards important goals and function effectively in society (Year Book Australia 1999). When faced with the need to learn new skills and try new approaches, such people would be more likely to be proactive, motivated and basically “willing to give it a go”. Karpin (1995) states that it is widely accepted that motivation is necessary for increased productivity, irrespective of the workplace and identifies “good managers” as “the key to a more competitive economy and higher performing enterprises”.

Australian enterprises have the potential, through the enhanced productivity of their people and technology and through their ability to innovate creatively and quickly, to deliver world competitive products and services (Karpin 1995). Assisting rural people to implement changes that would allow for the integration of environmental, social and economic needs through a shift to more sustainable development, is crucial to the survival of rural industries (RIRDC, DPIE 1998). Extension services, such as those provided by the DPI’s Futureprofit program, recognises the importance of assisting producers in managing multifaceted change as currently experienced in all aspects of their farm business.

The flexibility of the program allows for the incorporation of processes and tools which will enable producers to deal with the many economic and social issues facing rural Australia today. Quality of life, particularly in terms of adequate income, eduction, basic necessities and inclusion in society form the foundations of wellbeing (Qld. Health 2000) and as such impact on community health and social capital issues. The future of a rural community depends on the community taking control of that future and Futureprofit is well equipped to assist with such an endeavour.


Futureprofit, the Queensland component of the national Property Management Planning (PMP) campaign, is based on a strategic planning process that takes into account the personal and business vision, natural resources, business performance and human resources of producers who participate in the Integrated Workshop Series (National Strategy Paper 1999). The process provides producers with the skills and ability to develop a strategic plan that provides farm business teams with motivation, confidence and the capacity to manage change. Futureprofit aims to encourage an increase in the overall viability and competitiveness of producers by focussing on all aspects that effect the positive performance of the property and the producers ability to compete in the long term. Extensive research and case study evidence (Evaluation of Futureprofit 2000) has been compiled which shows how collaboration with other agencies and industry bodies have been successful in achieving the State Futureprofit Goal of: “Primary producers continuously improving their business and natural resource planning and management.”

In order to achieve the core business of PMP: “Facilitating strategic planning processes to bring about change in culture and practice at farm scale” (National Strategy Paper 1999), four main characteristics of the program have been distinguished:

  • Farm scale: activities are focused on issues producers identify with.
  • Strategic planning: activities encourage participants to think longer term.
  • Adult/facilitative learning: activities acknowledge the wealth of experience and knowledge that exists within a group of participants.
  • Whole systems: activities integrate and discuss the linkages between the natural, people, financial, marketing and enterprise resources on the property. (Letts 1996).

Figure 2. Clover Leaf Model

(Letts, Stewart, 1998)

Futureprofit and change management

Few would disagree that change is occurring in the world at a rate unprecedented in the past. In order to cope with the social, technical, economic, environmental and political changes that are altering the face of rural Australia, business and the wider community must develop new skills if they want to survive in the new millennium. The mission of PMP involves leading, influencing and facilitating change management of farm businesses through not just the use of progressive extension approaches, but also through the building of partnerships with private, industry and government extension and training programs, the farming community and agribusiness (National Strategy Paper 1999).

The Core Outcomes document (1998) pertaining to Futureprofit, lists the following outcomes for the Adult Learning dimension of the Clover Leaf model (Figure 3):

  • Improving their culture of self reliance
  • Having confidence to operate as pro-active initiating individuals
  • Being motivated to continually learn and improve
  • Accepting change and be aware of its impact on the business and how it can be managed

These four points are particularly relevant to the change management and planning strategies required with regard to issues of wellbeing, health and safety. When considered in conjunction with the third strategy of the Futureprofit Goals and Strategies document (1999) which states “to encourage the development of a culture of continuous improvement in the rural sector by working with and influencing partners and other stakeholders”, the advantages of a collaboration between DPI, Qld. Health and Farmsafe Qld. can be seen. The second point of this strategy relates specifically to producers continuing to learn, improve their skills and access information and support through relevant networks: Encourage producers to take responsibility for their own development, through continuous learning and participating in and contributing to support networks. (State Advisory Council 1999).

Key collaborators

Department of Primary Industries, Queensland

The DPI acknowledges the enormous effects that global changes are having on the economic and social viability of rural communities and has not baulked at the challenge of building the ‘Triple Bottom Line’ - the global need to simultaneously increase society’s economic, social and environmental value. Consequently, a high priority has been given to assisting individuals and communities to manage these changes through initiatives that build the capacity of communities to identify and respond to opportunities as they arise (DPI Corporate Plan 2000).

The Corporate Plan (DPI 2000) further states that in order to respond to the challenges of the future, the DPI will instigate the following key strategies with regard to increasing the capacity of rural communities to take up opportunities:

  • Work within the community to facilitate innovation in economic, business and community development
  • Work to build a ‘Smart’ community
  • Work within Qld’s communities to enhance independence and sustainable well-being
  • Develop and facilitate effective community interaction with Government

The third point is very pertinent to the issue of the health and well being of rural communities. It endorses the aims of this project which are based on the understanding that increasing the capacity and wellbeing of individuals will have positive effects on their levels of self esteem, motivation and independence which will consequently impact on the overall level of social capital within their communities.

Queensland Health – Public Health Unit

The Qld. Public Health Unit is an essential collaborator in this research project as the ethos of this department is based on social capital issues. The International Conference on Primary Health Care, (Declaration of Alma –Ata, 1978) declared that economic and social development is essential to the fullest attainment of health for all. Consequently, the protection of the health of all people is considered essential to sustained economic and social development and contributes to a better quality of life.

The Jakarta Declaration on Leading Health Promotion into the 21st Century (1997), also affirmed that the promotion of health is a key investment because health is a basic human right, essential for the social and economic development of communities throughout the world today. Through investing in and actively promoting health, a marked impact on the determinants of health is achieved so as to create the greatest health gain for people, to contribute significantly to the reduction of inequities in health, to further human rights, and to build social capital.

The public health unit is an ideal partner for DPI in regard to this project as this health unit can be distinguished from other disciplines of the health system by its focus on communities rather than on individuals. The objectives of Darling Downs Public Health Unit are:

  • Protecting health
  • Preventing disease, illness and injury
  • Promoting health and well being

Through working together and using our combined experiences and data procured through evaluation techniques, the Public Health Unit in Toowoomba and the DPI are in an ideal position to design proposals that will impact on the identified needs of regional communities. There is potential for health professionals to be involved in workshops organised by the DPI as well as DPI officers participating in health promotion activities. As a united force, the outcomes of increasing health and wellbeing in rural communities can be maximised.

“Populations, Prevention and Partnerships are the key aspects of our service delivery”

(Public Health Pamphlet, March 2000)

Farm Safe Queensland - Department of Industrial Relations

In today’s society the changing patterns of life, work and leisure are having significant impacts on the health and wellbeing of rural people. The Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion (1986) believes that work and leisure should be a source of health for people and furthermore that the way society organises work should assist in the creation of a healthy society. By promoting health and wellbeing in rural communities it is envisaged that living and working conditions that are safe, satisfying and enjoyable would be generated. In order to incorporate a sound and respected safety aspect into this project, it appeared logical to seek contribution from Farmsafe Qld. (Dept. of Industrial Relations), the leading authority on the promotion of health and safety in rural industry in Australia.

There is a strong correlation between the objectives of the DPI, Qld Health and those of Farmsafe Qld. There appears to be a great opportunity to combine efforts and maximise the resultant synergistic efforts of all departments to improve the social, economic and sustainability of rural communities. It is imperative that action to improve the health and safety of rural people occurs now, as agriculture is now declared Australia’s most dangerous profession with farms being described as ‘Killing Fields’ by Fuller (2001) in the Qld. Country Life.

As Arthur (1999) states, ‘accidents don’t just happen, they have to be caused and as such, they are preventable.’ In an effort to reduce the farm accident crisis, Government and private sector have unveiled a major farm injury prevention campaign called SAFER - See it, Assess it, Fix it, Evaluate it, Record it (Murphy 2001). The promotion of such an important campaign would fit very easily into the Human Resources modules of Futureprofit and as Farmsafe are seeking the assistance of all interested bodies in promoting this campaign, a collaboration is most feasible.

The importance of promoting health and safety is vitally important when one considers that agriculture ranks among the most hazardous of industries. Farmers throughout the world are at risk for fatal and non fatal injuries, work related lung diseases, noise induced hearing loss, skin diseases, and certain cancers associated with chemicals use and prolonged sun exposure (NIOSH Facts 1996).


The value of collaboration and partnerships should not be underestimated. The combined experience, skills and resources of relevant Government departments can be instrumental in breaking the vicious cycle of learned helplessness and pessimism/depression that can limit business performance, personal and family development and can tragically lead to illness and even suicide. The issues facing rural communities today are complex and interrelated and require government agencies to work together far more cooperatively (Cavaye 2000). By collaborating and accepting that we all have a role to play, positive steps can be taken to assist rural people to achieve greater coping skills, wider access to information and resources and stronger networks and support systems, all of which would support the social capital base of their communities.

The plenary work, research and theoretical foundation for the establishment of this collaborative project has been completed with the following outcomes anticipated:

  • Improve and develop DPI services through the integration of specific public health needs of rural communities into the Futureprofit program,
  • Improve and develop rural and remote communities’ capacity to respond to public health needs through participation in the Futureprofit program,
  • Solidify the synergy existing between the priority areas of the Dept of Primary Industries, Qld. Health and Farmsafe Qld. (emphasising a whole of government approach),
  • Encourage staff from different agencies to combine resources and work together to improve service delivery and government image,
  • Improve individual and community wellbeing, which will result in better decision making to create stronger, more positive and interdependent communities taking control of their future. This will lead to financial savings long term by less dependency on other government services such as welfare and health.


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