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Wednesday, 11 May 1994
Page: 626

Senator NEAL —I address my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Human Services and Health. Charles Perkins has described the increase in Aboriginal health funding as `peanuts', and Brendan Nelson, of the AMA, has described it as `cruel'. Could the minister advise the Senate of the government's budget initiatives regarding Aboriginal health?

Senator CROWLEY —This government's commitment to improving the level of health and related services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has been confirmed again in this year's budget, with the allocation of $500 million over the next five years. This continues the government's longstanding commitment to Aboriginal health which was established in 1990-91 with the national Aboriginal health strategy. The funding this year for that strategy, which is due to be completed in 1994, was $60 million for the community housing and infrastructure system and $10.9 million for Aboriginal medical services. That is what was in the forward estimates of the budget. On top of that, this budget actually includes $162 million for the expansion and enhancement of Aboriginal medical services and $338 million for the community housing and infrastructure program.

  This is clear evidence of this government's commitment to Aboriginal health. What is more, the national Aboriginal health strategy was set for review after its first five years. That review will happen this year, and it will highlight, for government, directions for future funding and appropriate new directions for services.

  It follows on this government's commitment to supporting the principle of self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. That is a very important thing that they should have, and it is recognised that they should have a considerable say in the services provided for them. In fact, they will be making recommendations from the appropriate councils. As well as that, agreement between the Minister for Human Services and Health, Dr Lawrence, and the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Mr Tickner, will be the basis for continuing funding and focus for the program.

  Most honourable senators here would know—or perhaps they would not—that that program is divided into two sections. Part of that is funding for things like sanitation, housing and public utilities, and under the community health services there is funding for general practitioner services, women's health services, dental programs, and trachoma and eye health programs.

  We are constantly looking at ways in which we can continue to improve the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and the government's commitment to improving that health program is quite clear. It is also quite clear, as the government has said, that we find the status of Aboriginal health totally unacceptable. In the light of Mr Fischer's comments, which I mentioned in this chamber last week—and I have seen no reference to Mr Fischer being chided, let alone spoken sternly to—it is quite clear that it would not be appropriate for the opposition to be looking after Aboriginal health because, according to those opposite, Aboriginal people could not be trusted with a tap. On the other hand, we have here a huge commitment of dollars, very significant dollars, for Aboriginal health. If those opposite want to argue this lack of commitment, I refer them to this answer and to this government's commitment in dollars for this program.