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Wednesday, 1 June 1994
Page: 1122

Senator CHAMARETTE (6.55 p.m.) —I wish to comment on the report by the Federal Race Discrimination Commissioner relating to the provision of water and sanitation in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. I wish to congratulate the commissioner, Irene Moss, and the people who put together this report, which is entitled Water, on giving us a valuable and insightful document to peruse. The gross inequities that exist in Australia over the provision of two of the most basic of human needs—water and sanitation—are an indictment of our society. As Irene Moss says in the foreword to her report:

It may come as a shock for the highly-urbanised majority of Australians to realise that within their own country there are communities of people existing without the water and sanitation services usually taken for granted—struggling with conditions that an urban traveller may describe as `third world'.

This report is timely for a number of important reasons. First, it is timely because of the current focus that Aboriginal health issues are receiving, and more particularly the debate about the type of services to be provided. It has been interesting to see the community support for a reputed half a billion dollars expenditure in the budget on Aboriginal health funding. However, it is very disappointing when one looks closer at the matter to see in real terms how little is being provided for environmental health and primary health care.

  To the Greens WA the level of funding for Aboriginal health in the federal budget is wholly inadequate. This report highlights pressing basic human needs, not luxuries. There is little point in providing more sophisticated health programs when people continue to die through lack of primary health services.

  Secondly, the report is important in light of the enormous publicity given to Aboriginal issues over the past couple of years since the Mabo High Court decision where Aboriginal people were on frequent occasions alleged as being singled out for disproportionately favourable treatment. If anyone in this country has seriously been arguing that Aboriginal people have had it easy in Australia, then this report should be compulsory reading. It outlines case studies that are the shame of Australia—aspects that we keep hidden from the rest of the world. If such cases were revealed we know that they would brand us as hypocrites whenever we speak of human rights and normal access to the civil requirements of an inhabitant of a country.

  Thirdly, this report is timely because of the welcomed re-empowerment of Aboriginal communities that are returning to their traditional lands. If we want to help Aboriginal people to determine their own future, we must be willing to assist them in tangible ways. Many Aboriginal communities, even those close to towns and cities, are held back from development by anachronistic and inflexible planning laws and lack of funding. They are also hindered by a lack of responsibility by state governments, which use the excuse of federal funding as a way of escaping state obligations. The report points to constructive ways of dealing with the problem and I look forward to a comprehensive response from the government.