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Thursday, 29 March 2001
Page: 26065

Ms ELLIS (5:35 PM) —The parliamentary committee process is, I believe, one of the most valued areas of our process in parliament in this country. The Health is life report was tabled in this place on 5 June last year—almost 10 months ago. This particular report—a unanimous report—resulted from the work of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family and Community Affairs over 2½ years on a reference sent to the committee from the government. I believe that there is an accepted understanding that reports be responded to in three months, that is, that there is actually a government target of three months in which to reply to reports. There are 35 recommendations contained in this report. I believe it is absolutely unacceptable that almost 10 months after the tabling we have seen no response from government.

It must be noted that there have been occasional announcements from this government, which we could interpret as reflective in some way of the needs of our indigenous communities in regard to their health and wellbeing. There has been money for PBS access, family violence, housing and infrastructure, and even some towards improving the nutrition of children in indigenous communities. But this is the very point I am making. The report was asked by this government to look at, amongst other things:

a) ways to achieve effective Commonwealth co-ordination of the provision of health and related programs to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, with particular emphasis on the regulation, planning and delivery of such services;

b) barriers to access to mainstream health services ... explore avenues to improve the capacity and quality of mainstream health service delivery to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the development of linkages between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and mainstream services;

c) the need for improved education of medical practitioners, specialists, nurses and health workers ...

d) the extent to which social and cultural factors and location, influence health, especially maternal and child health, diet, alcohol and tobacco consumption;

That is part of the terms of reference of this very important inquiry. It was 2½ years of hard work, with a lot of financial commitment to the process and a unanimous report containing 35 recommendations. I ask the government: what use is there in making the occasional announcement, when we have not seen the formal response where these elements that I have been speaking to have been considered? What is the point of a $200,000 research grant to help reduce indigenous smoking? That was an announcement in November of last year. What was the point of announcing in February of this year $2 million towards a nutrition program for children? How on earth can $2 million in grants properly improve the nutrition of children in indigenous communities—there are three specific recommendations addressing supply, cost, education, transport problems, and so on in the chapter in the report relating to nutrition. It is more complicated than that. The minister has said in the past that, to be effective, the money had to be spent carefully and strategically. I could not agree more. But how about responding firstly to the Health is life report setting out the government's strategic plan for the health and wellbeing of indigenous Australians? This would be an excellent start, a great way of keeping faith with all of the individuals and the communities who contributed so much to this report.

The thing I found most telling in the recommendations, and in the consideration of this report, was that the faults of the past are being repeated, that is, the adhockery and the public relations exercises, making announcements about indigenous health with no structural change and no consideration at all of the problems unearthed in this inquiry. I commend the Prime Minister for being so moved by the stories of petrol sniffing on the front page of the Australian, but I cannot condone the fact that he can respond emotionally and not strategically to such an important issue. What a way it would be to move forward on reconciliation, in a most fruitful way—by responding to this report in a proper fashion. Ten months is far too long. We need to see that response to this report quickly and surely so that those communities, and the public in general, know exactly what this government has in mind for indigenous health in this country.