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Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Page: 10820

Indigenous Health


Mr NEUMANN (Blair) (15:26): My question is the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister for Defence Science and Personnel and Minister for Indigenous Health. Would the minister update the House on what the government's significant health investments have delivered for Indigenous Australians?


Mr SNOWDON (LingiariMinister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister for Defence Science and Personnel and Minister for Indigenous Health) (15:26): I thank the member for Blair for his question and for his interest in this very important subject. You will know, Mr Speaker, that we have an objective of halving the life expectancy gap between Aboriginal people and the rest of Australians within a decade and also halving the gap in mortality rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children under the age of five, which we are on target to do.

In the most recent budget we announced expenditures of $1.2 billion dedicated to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, which is an 87 per cent increase over what the expenditure was when we came to government in 2007. An important component of what we are doing here is addressing chronic disease in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. Two-thirds of the gap in health outcomes can be attributed to preventable chronic diseases such as tobacco smoking. We have delivered real benefits in addressing these issues through a chronic disease package of $805.5 million, which is part of a $1.6 billion COAG package to deal with the broader questions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. As part of the $805.5 million that we are expending, $100 million is aimed at tobacco.

I make this very important point: tobacco consumption is causing a great deal of misery amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Twenty per cent of all deaths in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities can be attributed to tobacco consumption—12 per cent of the burden of disease. It is very important that we address these issues. So, as part of what we are doing in this chronic disease package, we are investing in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workforce. It is a very important thing to do. We believe that if we want to improve health outcomes in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, not only do we have to make the money available but also we have to increase participation rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in addressing their own health needs. To that end, we are employing: 107 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander outreach workers, 51 chronic disease project officers, 17 practice managers, 11 health professionals, 31 regional tobacco action coordinators and action workers, 30 healthy lifestyle workers and 15 care coordinators. It might surprise you to know that we have had some criticism for this expenditure. Unfortunately, on 11 August, the shadow Treasurer, when referring to Aboriginal anti-smoking programs, said of this $100 million expenditure that it was 'an outrageous waste of money'. Then he said, 'The government is more interested in employing bureaucrats than it is in getting value for taxpayers' money.' That was responded to by an Aboriginal lifestyle worker—a person employed to do this job for us—Ian Lacey, a former Brisbane Broncos star. He said on ABC PM:

We're actually out on the ground, we're doing programs, we're doing community sports days, community days, all about our people living healthier lifestyles and living longer. I'd love—

Joe Hockey—

to come up here … I think he'd change his words pretty quick.

I conclude by saying that we are dedicated to improving health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this country. We have a plan for jobs in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, unlike the opposition. All they have is Work Choices.