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Wednesday, 18 November 2009
Page: 8253


Senator SIEWERT (4:57 PM) —Because a man lives 40 kilometres to the wrong side of the border, he has been denied access to dialysis. That is an unacceptable situation in this country. He has been denied access at his nearest centre in the Northern Territory. He would have to fly 2,400 kilometres. He does not see that as a solution. He sees that he would in fact pass away in land that is not in his country. In other words, he is offered no solution to his health problems. That is an unacceptable situation in 2009, in what we call the lucky country. Governments across Australia are committed to closing the gap—the federal government, the Territory government and the state governments involved—and yet here we have patients that have no access to dialysis. As I said, that is unacceptable.

Yes, Senator Adams mentioned the meeting of health ministers that was held last week. One would think they would have discussed access to short-term dialysis to fix this problem while the beds come on in the longer term, but apparently they did not. I heard that from Dr Kim Hames, who is the Minister for Health in Western Australia, on the radio last night. They discussed the longer term provision of dialysis units in Western Australia, South Australia and the NT, I understand. But they did not discuss this short-term crisis. I find that, quite frankly, unbelievable.

I must admit that two weeks ago when I heard the announcement from Minister Snowdon that a temporary unit of two new beds was going to be housed in Alice Springs I thought: ‘Fantastic. That was one of the shortest campaigns we have had to run. We have dealt with this issue of the ban in the Northern Territory because two more beds have been provided and that will get us over the hump until the new beds in Alice Springs have come online.’ But I was sadly mistaken. What Senator Crossin did not articulate in her speech was that the Northern Territory government has not lifted the ban on interstate patients. So the government can crow all that it likes about the fact that it has provided two new beds; it has met some of the unmet need in the Northern Territory, but not for Western Australia and not for South Australia. As of this morning Patrick has still be refused access to renal services in Alice Springs. I will reiterate: that is unacceptable in 2009.

Are we going to stand by and watch patients be denied access to dialysis? No, we should not. If we are genuinely committed to closing the gap, no, we should not. The Commonwealth, as Senator Crossin articulated, has put $1.6 billion into Indigenous health and yet we cannot provide dialysis for patients in Central Australia. That is unacceptable.

What could be done in the short term, as Senator Adams commented, is nocturnal dialysis. This of course is not a long-term option but for the short term isn’t it better than nothing? Isn’t it better than people dying on country without access to the vital services they need to save their lives. Of course it is an option. The Commonwealth has pumped millions and millions and millions of dollars into the Northern Territory intervention to deal with the emergency. Is this not an emergency? Here we are getting caught up, yet again, in arguments between what is a federal, state or territory responsibility. When are we going to get over it? It is not good enough that people will die without this treatment. They have been told to fly over 2,000 kilometres away from their homes and away from their families. It is another form of denial of services. People are being sent to Adelaide. We were just told that the South Australian government is looking at providing more beds in Adelaide. If you live on the APY lands you are being sent to Adelaide. Again: away from your home, away from your family, away from your culture and away from your land. That is not acceptable either. That does not go towards closing the gap.

We believe that the Commonwealth has a fundamental responsibility to show some leadership here. If the states and territories appear incapable of solving this shortfall the Commonwealth needs to show leadership. They have shown leadership before— (Time expired)

Question agreed to.