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Thursday, 12 May 1994
Page: 753

Senator LEES —I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Human Services and Health. I ask the minister to clarify once and for all whether or not she planned to extend the national Aboriginal health strategy beyond the end of this year and continue to fund it. If she did not, did she advise Aboriginal medical services that their funding was likely to cease? If she is going to continue funding the strategy, will she come clean and tell the Senate and, indeed, the Aboriginal people exactly how much of that $162 million set aside in the budget is new money and exactly how much of it is allocated for Aboriginal medical services? Finally, can the minister tell the Senate why the government does not stop complaining about the states' failure to match its share of the Aboriginal funding and meet their obligations and why she does not simply put the money up and deduct it from the various states' annual grants?

Senator CROWLEY —There is so much in Senator Lees' question that it is a bit difficult to get across it all. I particularly take the first point. There has been a debate, as reported in yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald in an article that has just been brought to my attention. I have seen a copy of a press release by Dr Brendan Nelson.

  Dr Nelson argues that the Australian government's money is not new money and that this is a sleight of hand allocation of funding for Aboriginal health. I also have here—I hope opposition senators have seen this but, if not, I am delighted to tell the Senate about it—the press release from Dr Lawrence in reply to that argument, pointing out that the AMA's assessment of the federal government's expenditure on Aboriginal health is inaccurate and misleading, that the AMA has been using economic tricks to juggle the numbers, and that it is absolutely blatantly refusing to acknowledge the facts.

  Dr Nelson is putting up very inaccurate figures, and Dr Lawrence is at pains to explain this. The national Aboriginal health strategy was due to expire at the end of 1995. As I pointed out in answer to a question yesterday, a review will be completed this year. That review will point out ways for the government to look at further funding and at the further direction of funding in the Aboriginal health area. But the government has added the new money to both continue that strategy and to increase the funding to it; and that is only part of our commitment to Aboriginal health.

  As I pointed out yesterday, there are two sections to that money. The continuation of the national Aboriginal health strategy is a new commitment, fought for and won in cabinet. Not only is the government continuing money at that level but it is also dramatically increasing the amount. So it is very important to appreciate that Dr Lawrence has achieved not only a commitment in principle to Aboriginal health but a commitment in very significant dollars, an additional half a billion dollars over five years, thus trebling the amount spent on the strategy in the last three years.

  It is beyond dispute that the government is committed not only in words but also in deeds—in what it has delivered in dollars. I certainly urge senators to appreciate that Dr Nelson is muddying the waters with his facts—not the government. Very importantly, if people want to take issue with Dr Nelson, they might ask him why he is arguing with the government about its new money for Aboriginal health and why he is not arguing with his own doctor constituency about why specialists refuse to operate on public patients in private hospitals. The government has committed its dollars to that. The AMA constituency of Dr Nelson is not delivering. So Dr Nelson had better put his own house in order before he starts taking up tedious and inaccurate points of issue about the dollar and policy commitment of this government to Aboriginal health.

Senator LEES —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for the first part of her answer; the second part was nowhere near what was asked. I point out that, from her answer, we have nothing like a dramatic increase in expenditure on Aboriginal primary health care. Using Dr Nelson's figures, which I have here if the minister would like a full look at them, we come out with an extra $5.24 million per year. Using figures that do not make allowance for the government's growth estimates, we have $9 million per year. How can the minister possibly say that that is any sort of substantial increase in primary health care for Aboriginal people?

Senator CROWLEY —I can merely repeat the government's accurate position and not Dr Nelson's jiggered figures. The commitment is for five years. Not only has this final year of the national Aboriginal health strategy been given a $40 million boost, but there is an additional $459 million for the following four years. I do not understand how Senator Lees can possibly accept Dr Nelson's figures, in the face of that clear evidence. There is a huge boost to the strategy for this last year of its existence and a continuation of that strategy, as new money, well beyond. The direction of that strategy will depend on the review happening this year. The government's commitment to Aboriginal health is real and in dollars.