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Tuesday, 24 February 2015
Page: 1172


Ms HALL (ShortlandOpposition Whip) (19:40): When I was first elected to this parliament I was a member of the then House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family and Community Affairs, and that committee was undertaking an inquiry into Indigenous health. We visited areas in Australia from the most remote to regional, rural and metropolitan, and we identified that there were significant health problems in those communities. It did not matter whether it was in the most remote part of Australia or in metropolitan Sydney, Indigenous Australians had poorer health outcomes across the board compared to non-Indigenous Australians.

We are here tonight speaking to theClose the gap: progress and priorities report, which is a step forward in that this report has to be tabled every year in parliament. However, I find it really disturbing that we are here in parliament debating key areas where we have failed to meet most of the targets in closing the gap on Indigenous health. We have only met two out of the seven targets. I read through this report and looked at the health indicators and outcomes that have been achieved. It is really important that we do have measurable outcomes in this report, but I cannot believe that I have been in this parliament now for over 16 years and that one of the first issues I became involved in was the poor state of health of our Indigenous Australians and the need for us to work and act on that and make a difference. Then today I stand here and I look at the figures for things like cardiovascular disease and see the difference in rates for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. I see the high levels of treatable and preventable conditions that Indigenous people have and the difference between their outcomes and those of non-Indigenous people. For instance, the gap is widening in the area of diabetes by 35 to 44 years. In the Indigenous population nine per cent of those aged over 35 have diabetes in comparison to 8.2 per cent in the non-Indigenous population, and the rate is even greater as age increases. The difference between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people with early onset of kidney disease is incredible. It is the same with cardiovascular disease: 32 per cent of all Indigenous Australians have high levels of triglycerides, compared to 14 per cent of non-Indigenous Australians.

I know that the health of Indigenous Australians is an area of great concern and I know that this side of the House is totally committed to addressing that. But we still have a very high level of smoking among our Indigenous population; obesity is greater among our Indigenous population; and alcohol consumption and risky drinking is an area that has been addressed but not adequately. When this government discontinued the National Indigenous Drug and Alcohol Committee, I saw that as a retrograde step, and it is recommendation 3 of the steering committee's Close the gap report that it be reintroduced.

There have been some gains, and it is important to acknowledge those gains but also to emphasise that closing the gap really needs a whole-of-government approach and funding to address it. Our federal government, our state governments and our local governments need to all come together and make this commitment, and remain committed to the COAG process. It is vitally important that the Australian government continue to show leadership in the COAG Closing the Gap strategy, as was identified in recommendation 2 of the Close the gap report.

But, to make a real difference, there are some key areas that we need to address. One of those key areas is health. We need to say it is not good enough that, because you are an Indigenous Australian, you are going to be sicker and you are going to die earlier. Our Indigenous population do not have the same opportunities as other Australians. Education is also vitally important, including getting children to school. Getting adults into work and building safer communities are all really important initiatives and strategies. But you have to build those things on a healthy society and a healthy population, and you cannot separate the two.

Unless more than lip service is paid to these issues, unless the $534 million of funding cuts to programs is reinstated, I have concerns about this country's ability to ensure that Indigenous Australians have the same opportunities, the same health outcomes and the same educational outcomes as non-Indigenous Australians. And there are issues about access to education, because an Indigenous student might enrol in a school but there are a number of other aspects that will determine whether or not that young person is going to embrace and utilise the educational opportunities that are available. There is a strong association, as was pointed out in the Close the gap report, between family functioning and truancy. Household stress, housing issues and family crises are the most important predictors of school nonattendance. We need to address the core issues, the family issues and the social issues, that impact on that young person's ability to embrace education.

Actually closing the gap and improving these outcomes cannot be done by this parliament alone. It can only happen if we work with the Indigenous communities throughout this country, because it can only really be achieved if it involves and is driven by Indigenous communities and by the actions and programs that are undertaken by Indigenous communities in this country. The power needs to lie with Indigenous Australians. We do not need a patriarchal approach to closing the gap; we need to have a very inclusive partnership with Indigenous Australians.

We need to make sure that, in 10 years time, we do not have another person standing up in this parliament making the same speech that I am making, saying it is not good enough, we need to act on it, we need to change things, we have far too many Indigenous Australians in jail. It is just not good enough.