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Tuesday, 4 June 2013
Page: 5203

Ms GRIERSON (Newcastle) (13:30): I also wish to ask the Minister for Indigenous Health a question and mine is more general than the one that just preceded. I do think it important that the minister outline to us how the current budget continues to give our government's commitment to closing the gap in life expectancy between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous Australians. I ask this question in a week where yet another wonderful Indigenous leader has been lost to the Aboriginal community and to the people of Australia, far too soon.

I ask it also as the member for Newcastle. I use our Medicare Local statistics, a wonderful baseline document prepared when Medicare Locals were set up. It shows the number of Indigenous people in each electorate and in each Medicare Local area. In my region, the areas of Lake Macquarie and Newcastle have very high Indigenous population proportions. There are 7½ per cent in Lake Macquarie and 6.8 per cent in Newcastle. Interestingly, their estimates show that 60 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders access mainstream health care. In my electorate, the Newcastle and Hunter Medicare Local has been particularly active in informing general practitioners, GPs, how they should be responding and has been assisting them to respond to the needs of Indigenous people in my electorate.

Interestingly, I also come from the perspective of being in the electorate where our local university trains about 75 per cent of all Indigenous GPs. We are absolutely blessed to have Professor Kelvin Kong, the first Indigenous surgeon in Australia and the first Aboriginal Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, who specialises in head-and-neck surgery and ear-nose-and-throat surgery, practising once more in his home region. It is a great privilege to have him there.

I have seen that wonderful side of Indigenous success and the commitment by Indigenous people to closing that gap and being involved in delivering those services. As part of the ATSIA committee of this parliament I have also visited many remote communities and listened to remote communities tell of their health needs and the need for their people to have access to services. It is of great distress to see people with systemic disease and systemic problems, but it is wonderful to see Indigenous communities embracing the closing-the-gap initiatives as their own initiatives and their path for the future—for sustaining their future and the future of their people.

In those remote communities it was very heartening to see young Indigenous people say to us, often in their own language: 'We want to be here on the ground. We want to be the medical-service deliverers here.' It is wonderful to see them getting the training opportunities and having those aspirations. I must say that each community also raised with us the problems of alcohol abuse and the controls that have been seen by many Indigenous communities, particularly women, as absolutely vital for sustaining their health and safety.

I would ask the Minister for Indigenous Health to outline those areas of success in closing the gap and the challenges that exist in closing that gap successfully. How is that happening, not just in remote communities but also in urban communities like mine in Newcastle?

I was unable to be there on Friday, when the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing opened our headspace, another service that is widely accessed by young Indigenous people in my electorate. While he was there he also highlighted the youth service in Newcastle, which has been very active in engaging with Indigenous youth and bringing to their attention the availability of services such as the headspace centre in Newcastle, which Minister Butler opened on Friday.

Finally, I ask the Minister for Indigenous Health, to outline, please, how our budget assists the continuation of the Gillard Labor government's commitment to closing the gap in life expectancy.