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Thursday, 12 May 1994
Page: 763


Senator LEES (Deputy Leader of the Australian Democrats) (3.13 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Family Services (Senator Crowley), to a question asked by Senator Lees this day, relating to health funding in the Budget.

I am very pleased to note that the minister has agreed that the government did continue to fund Aboriginal health service. Therefore, if that was continuing funding, we have very little left of what the government is claiming is new money.

  I would like to go through two different possibilities to try to find out exactly what we are talking about when we are looking at new money going to solve the major problems faced by the Aboriginal community. If we take the existing level of funding, which is $70 million per year, and we extrapolate that over the five years, which is where the budget money is supposed to go to, we see that we have $350 million just to maintain the existing, inadequate level of services.

  The government has split up this money with basically 30 per cent going to primary health care and the rest going to infrastructure. I would like to look at the primary health care money. If we take the $350 million from $499 million, we have left an amount of only $149 million over the five years; that is $29.7 million a year. If we then take 30 per cent of it, we are down to $9.1 million of new money to be spread right across the Aboriginal community for primary health care. It is nothing like what former Senator Richardson was suggesting, which was $160 million a year—$800 million over five years—for primary health care.

  Access Economics has taken the government's own budget and looked at what the government has said is going to be the rate of growth. It has let the budget for the national Aboriginal health service grow over each of the next five years by the government's stated amounts, and ends up with a figure of $414 million required to maintain the existing inadequate services. Taking this from the $499 million that the government has put in for the five years, we end up with only $85 million of new money—in other words, $17 million per year. Thirty per cent of that, which is directed to primary health care, leaves only $5.24 million of extra money to solve the enormous problems facing Aboriginal Australians. There is only $5.24 million to make any sort of inroad into the appalling problems faced by young children and adults, problems caused by the lack of immunisation programs and the lack of primary health care for everything from cut feet to a range of skin conditions, to inner ear infections, and for any programs for drug and alcohol treatment—$5.24 million spread across some 98 Aboriginal health services.

  I cannot see how this government can honestly believe that that is anything like adequate. Looking at community perceptions, I believe it is even worse than a con for the Aboriginal people because the community out there has taken the government at its word. In the last couple of days I have done several radio interviews, and the community says, `Wonderful! They've put another $500 million into Aboriginal health care.' The government has not—it is nothing like that.

  So, in 12 months time, when we see no improvement in Aboriginal health, when we do not see any change in the appalling infant mortality rates, when we do not see any change in the number of people suffering from drug and alcohol problems and when we do not see any change in life expectancy, the community will turn around and say, `Well, $500 million went in there. What happened? Was it all rorted somehow in the system? Did it all disappear down a drain somewhere?' We have to somehow get across to the community the message that this is a giant con, a three-card trick extraordinaire—one of the most disgraceful sleight of hand tricks that I have seen in my time in this parliament.

  I would like to put the onus on the government to explain this $5.2 million. Perhaps I will let it get away with the $9 million if it is only going to fund Aboriginal health services to the same level. If we take that $70 million as the base funding for the Aboriginal health system, there is somewhere between $9 million and $5 million per year extra. I would like the government to now explain how the Aboriginal health services will get this money, how much each service will receive and what exactly the government hopes to achieve.