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Wednesday, 11 February 2015
Page: 508


Senator LAZARUS (QueenslandLeader of the Palmer United Party in the Senate) (17:15): The Abbott government is worsening Indigenous disadvantage in this country. Despite all the flowery words delivered by Prime Minister Abbott this morning regarding Closing the Gap, the reality is that the Abbott government has cut funding to Indigenous programs, initiatives and events across the country without regard for the impact, consequences and harm caused to our country's first Australians.

Let me cite an example from my home state of Queensland. The Arthur Beetson Foundation Murri Carnival is an annual event which is fully endorsed by the Queensland Rugby League and is the only indigenous Rugby League carnival in Queensland to be accredited by the games' governing body. The carnival is a Rugby League competition for Indigenous men, women and 15-year-old boys representing Indigenous communities from across rural, urban and remote Queensland. Funded by the federal Department of Health through its Tackling Indigenous Smoking and Healthy Lifestyle Program since 2011 at a cost of $160,000 per year, the carnival is a smoke-, alcohol- and sugar-free event which requires all players and officials to complete a preventive health assessment at local Aboriginal Medical Services or participating private-public primary care services. Mandatory checks are important for the competition as they ensure that players receive a comprehensive assessment of their health prior to taking the field. The checks also encourage better health-seeking behaviour within first Australian communities more broadly.

With preventable chronic disease the largest contributor to the gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, the competition is helping to improve first Australian communities to take responsibility for their own health, resulting in the overall improvement of Indigenous health generally. The carnival is held in September each year and is televised live on National Indigenous Television. In fact, it is one of the highest-rating telecasts on the NITV channel. The carnival is one of Queensland's largest in the Rugby League community and is considered to be the flagship for Indigenous sporting competitions across the country. Over the last three years, this competition has seen the completion of over 8,000 health checks delivered to Indigenous players and officials; enjoyed the participation of some 5,000 Indigenous players from 207 teams from across Queensland; witnessed a significant increase in school attendance for Indigenous boys; supported the placement of over 30 Indigenous trainees with the Australian Federal Police; been attended by over 100,000 spectators, all of whom have been exposed to the good health messages; had over 2,000 spectators participate in health education and screening at this event; witnessed a significant increase in enrolment of first Australians on the Australian electoral roll; and supported 15 Indigenous boys being placed on fully funded scholarships with Ipswich Grammar and Nudgee college.

Despite the outstanding outcomes being achieved by the annual Arthur Beetson Foundation Murri Carnival—and the persistent approaches by the management of the Arthur Beetson Foundation to the Abbott government for continued funding—the Abbott government, I am sad to say, has failed to commit to further funding for this carnival. As a result, the carnival will be cancelled this year and will not be held again. The funding equates to $160,000 a year. The Abbott government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars—in fact, millions of dollars—trying to sell higher education cuts, even though the people of Australia have already said no. My message to the Abbott Government is this. Give back the money you spent on the higher education propaganda advertising campaign—without a mandate—with interest, and put the money into the Arthur Beetson Foundation Murri Rugby League Carnival. Start doing something good for this nation instead of cutting, slashing and burning everything that moves. This will help close the gap, and, importantly, it will help our first Australians, the people of Queensland and all Australians.

So, I call on—in fact, I am begging—Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the Minister for Health and Sport, Sussan Ley, because I know how important this carnival is to so many Indigenous Queenslanders and Australians, to immediately, with haste, commit to a new equivalent or improved funding arrangement for the carnival this year and for future years.