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Wednesday, 29 June 1994
Page: 2296

Senator HERRON —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Human Services and Health. I refer to the report released yesterday by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, and I draw the minister's attention to one of the prime conclusions of the report, namely, that unemployment is one of the greatest reasons for poor health. Unemployed men in Australia have mortality rates 17 per cent more than the Australian average and they are 26 per cent more likely to suffer chronic illness. Unemployed women are 42 per cent more likely to suffer chronic illness and are twice as likely to suffer mental disorders as the employed. My question is: given that unemployment is a direct result of the recession which Prime Minister Keating claimed we had to have, what plans does the minister have to reverse these damning statistics affecting the new underclass of Australian society created by this Labor government?

Senator CROWLEY —This is a pretty remarkable question, I have to say, Mr President, going from health to unemployment.

Senator Herron —It is in the report.

Senator CROWLEY —There are a million things in the report. Let me say first of all that the document released yesterday by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare is actually like a window on the health of Australia at this time. It is a very useful document on the health status of Australians and it gives some data on which we can make some serious comparisons year by year on what sorts of things will effect better outcomes. The report also highlights what we have often said in this place regarding the serious status of the health of Aboriginal people, and that is an area the government is already addressing.

  Senator Herron asked whether or not unemployment affects the health status of people. That is undeniable—it always has been understood to do so. But it would be a pretty heroic claim to treat it as a stand-alone causal factor.

Senator Herron —What are you going to do about it?

Senator CROWLEY —I am pleased Senator Herron has given me the chance to talk about that again. We have introduced a white paper to tackle the question of unemployment. The very best way to improve the health status of people who are unemployed is to see that they are back in employment. I presume that is the conclusion one could draw. I presume Senator Herron is not suggesting that we should give them valium and ask them to take it all much more calmly.

  We have a white paper. We have a commitment by this government through the budget and the white paper to reduce dramatically unemployment, to create jobs, to have better payments of social security and to assist through programs such as the jobs compact and newstart. We have to encourage people to know that this government will not forget one Australian. The white paper will assist people, particularly by helping them out of unemployment into jobs.

  The opposition's response is a bit curious. It seems to suggest that a job creation program is not the best way to help these people. If Senator Herron does not mean that, then I do not know what his conclusions could be. He knows better than I the extent to which unemployment contributes to ill health. We also need to state that a whole lot of unemployed people are not in ill health, but from that document we know that there is a high correlation. I am not denying it. Senator Herron should read the volume, too. There is a correlation, and there is a high association. Clearly this government's commitment to reducing unemployment is the very best way to deal with ill health due to unemployment.

Senator HERRON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I am pleased that the minister mentioned the Aboriginal community. Is she aware that the life expectancy of the Aboriginal and Islander community has actually decreased since the Labor government came to power?

Senator CROWLEY —As I said, the document released yesterday reveals a whole variety of statistics and analyses on a whole range of people and conditions. As I have already said, I think it tells us that this government certainly is not complacent about the status of the health of Aboriginal people. Minister Lawrence has also made that clear. She particularly made that point yesterday at the launch of this volume. I know that Senator Herron would have heard what she said because he was there, as was I. Presumably, the intent of the honourable senator's question is whether or not this government is committed to seeing improvements in Aboriginal health. It most certainly is, and we have the data in that volume from which we can see that measured improvement, through the commitment in this budget, to Aboriginal health.