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Thursday, 24 March 1994
Page: 2203


Senator NEWMAN —My question is directed to the current Minister for Health. Over recent months, the minister has made a number of statements related to Aboriginal health, including that he had seen things `which would be barely tolerated in war ravaged African nations' and `You can't be the Health Minister and look at the health statistics of the Aboriginal community and walk away satisfied unless you do something to bring them into line with the rest of the community'. Aboriginal people have trusted the minister and believed in him and he has raised their expectations and their hopes. Has the minister no sense of shame at now deserting them without ever having done anything other than mouthing empty rhetoric?


Senator RICHARDSON —I am glad that the milk of human kindness still floods through Senator Newman's veins.

  Senator Gareth Evans interjecting


Senator RICHARDSON —I know it is a big assumption, Gareth, but I will try it anyway. I take this question of Aboriginal health pretty seriously. I do not really believe that it ought to be a matter of debate between us, but rather something on which we should all cooperate.

  I went to the Northern Territory and to the Kimberleys in late January, knowing that I would be doing what I am doing today. But I went there because I knew that there was a huge problem that had to be solved and I thought, perhaps immodestly, that if I did not involve myself with all that I could bring to it, it would not get resolved as quickly as it needed to be.

  Since that trip—as some here know in some detail; but as all senators, including Senator Newman, know—I have since prepared a very detailed budget submission on this which goes to every single point of repair on the question of Aboriginal health.


Senator Kemp —Will Carmen Lawrence fill your place?


Senator RICHARDSON —It is not about whoever replaces me. I am utterly confident, on the word of the Prime Minister and the Treasurer, that that plan will be put in place. While opposition senators can scoff now, I have to tell them that on the night of 10 May Senator Newman will look pretty silly for asking this question. Senator Newman has to ask herself this question: how sillier does she wish to look? The facts are that on 10 May when the budget is announced, every step that I have laid down—every step—will have been followed.

  So, as far as I am concerned, there is now a prescription to right a horrible wrong about which Senator Newman has never expressed one syllable of concern in her entire parliamentary career—not one syllable! What I did was discover a problem and go and do something about it. What Senator Newman has done, as usual, is nothing. Mind you, Senator Newman is in good company because when it comes to matters Aboriginal, all those around her have had so little to say for so long that it ought to bring shame on every one of them.

  But that having been said, on 10 May Senator Newman will see that the problems of Aboriginal health, which have been ignored for a couple of hundred years, will not be ignored. There is a major plan afoot; it will be announced in the budget. It is something of which we should all be proud—not just those on this side of the chamber—because it addresses something that needed to be addressed a long, long time ago.