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Wednesday, 4 May 1994
Page: 198

Senator WOODS —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Human Services and Health. It relates to a statement by Senator Richardson, the former Minister for Health, in this place on 24 March of this year with regard to the planned $800 million funding for Aboriginal health when he said:

I am utterly confident, on the word of the Prime Minister, and the Treasurer, that the plan will be put in place.

Given that the government's commitment will now be only $500 million, does the minister agree that Senator Richardson was obviously mistaken when he said that the Prime Minister could be taken on his word, and that in fact the Prime Minister just cannot be trusted at all?

  Senator Collins interjecting

Senator CROWLEY —Leave my lines to me, thanks, Senator Collins. The government does recognise the importance of the continuing health problems that Aboriginal communities in this country have. That has been very clearly recognised. I think everyone would acknowledge that this issue was raised by Senator Richardson to a new level of recognition and awareness when he was the Minister for Health. What he did was put Aboriginal health on the agenda in a new way, which this government is building on and responding to.

Senator Ian Macdonald —What took him so long? Everybody else had worked that out years ago.

Senator CROWLEY —We will come back to that in a moment, but I would not boast if I were Senator Macdonald. What we have is that recognition and a commitment to continuing that program and the dollars that will be promised. There will certainly be a significant improvement but, as Senator Woods knows, there is no way I will tell those opposite what is in next week's budget. They will have to wait and see.

  It is interesting that this question comes not only from Senator Woods in particular but from an opposition that does not have a health policy but does have people who actually say, as my good colleague Senator Collins pre-empted me, that they could not give a tap to an Aboriginal person. I have not heard anybody over there—

  Opposition senator interjecting

Senator CROWLEY —Yes, I think it is important. The Leader of the Opposition does not know. I have not heard anybody on the other side refute that statement. I did hear—

Senator Boswell —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. Can I take the opportunity of refuting that statement now—

The PRESIDENT —No, you cannot, Senator Boswell.

Senator Boswell —What Mr Fischer—

The PRESIDENT —Senator Boswell, are you making a point of order? Either make a point of order or be seated.

Senator Boswell —Mr President, I would like to put on record that the minister is imputing an improper motive.

The PRESIDENT —You should be making a point of order. Please be seated.

Senator CROWLEY —I think Senator Boswell has just helped make the case very strongly. I have not heard anybody on the other side be critical of Mr Fischer. I have heard Dr Hewson say that Mr Fischer has a very strange, embarrassing and shameful way of expressing things.

  This government's record of its commitment to Aboriginal health is there. The fact that we have much more to do is clearly on the record and recognised by this government. The promise of and commitment to extra dollars are there but, as to the facts about them, those opposite will have to wait until the budget. Our commitment is steady, and we will not speak about Aboriginal health in the way that Mr Fischer or the opposition does.

Senator WOODS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. As someone who has actually acted as a doctor to an isolated Aboriginal community, I think the facts of the case actually show that the minister's misrepresentation is entirely unfounded. My question is: does the minister acknowledge that the change in funding, a cut of $300 million, has understandably been interpreted by the Aboriginal communities as a fundamental lack of care for the health and wellbeing of their people?

Senator CROWLEY —I hope Senator Woods took my remarks not to be a personal comment about him, particularly if he has served Aboriginal communities. It is about his being representative of a Liberal Party policy. That is what my comments went to.

  As I have said, as to the facts and figures about this matter, those opposite will have to wait until the budget. But what is clear is that there is a recognition by this government of the importance of Aboriginal health, the significant problems confronting those communities and the commitment to increased funding. As to the details of that increase, as to the details of the program promised, opposition senators will have to wait until the budget.