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Tuesday, 8 August 2006
Page: 14

Mr TOLLNER (3:03 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Health and Ageing. Will the minister advise the House of a new study that suggests some improvements in the area of Aboriginal health? Will the minister advise what further action the government is considering in this area?

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Health and Ageing) —I do thank the member for Solomon for his question and I thank him for his consistent interest in this very important topic. I can inform the House that successive federal, state and territory governments have consistently invested more resources in better health facilities for Indigenous people. Since 1997 the number of Aboriginal medical services funded by the federal government has increased from 108 to 183 and there has been an 87 per cent increase in the number of episodes of health care given to Indigenous people. Spending on Aboriginal medical services has increased from $100 million in 1996 to $350 million a year now. There has been a 50 per cent increase in the number of Indigenous doctors and a 30 per cent increase in the number of Indigenous nurses. It is one thing to spend more money; it is another thing to see measurable improvements in Indigenous health. There has been some encouraging recent news.

A study just published in the Medical Journal of Australia shows that in the Northern Territory—and this will be of particular interest to the member for Solomon—the increase in diabetes death rates has slowed from 13 per cent to three per cent a year over the period from 1992 to 2001. The increase in heart disease death rates has slowed from six per cent to one per cent a year. Lung disease death rates, which were increasing at three per cent a year, are now dropping at six per cent a year. I see that the member for Lalor is giggling. No-one should be complacent about this. This does suggest that in at least some areas government policy is working.

I notice that on the weekend the Leader of the Opposition came out with a commitment to entirely eliminate Indigenous health disadvantage within two terms of government. I welcome that commitment, because I have to say that this government has no monopoly of wisdom or insight in this area. I would invite the Leader of the Opposition to specify precisely what he would do differently. What new programs would he introduce? What new spending would he commence? Because if he cannot say exactly what he would do differently, he is guilty of peddling false hope in an area which is far too important for more Beazley bluster.