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Wednesday, 30 May 1973
Page: 2914

Mr MATHEWS (CASEY, VICTORIA) - I rise tonight to say a word of thanks to the Minister for Health (Dr Everingham) and to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Bryant) for the expedition with which they acted in the matter of the health of Aboriginal children in East Gippsland, demonstrating that at least on the part of the Australian Government there is a readiness to recognise problems when they occur. The truth about the health of Aboriginal children in East Gippsland has begun to emerge despite the efforts of health authorities in Melbourne to suppress it. The Health Officer of the Tambo Shire, Dr H. M. L. Murray, revealed yesterday that in the East Gippsland hamlet of Nowa Nowa alone there are 16 children under the age of 11 who are infested with scabies. Of 5 of the children he examined yesterday he said:

Two were so messy that I have not the faintest clue. Their skin was a mass of discharging sores.

This is the condition which the Assistant Chief Health Officer of Victoria, Dr B. P. Mccloskey, regards as 'not a serious health problem but a minor health nuisance'. While Dr Murray was making his disclosures, Dr Mccloskey continued to insist that there was no health problem. He accused me of overdramatising the situation. He asserted that among the 54 students at Nowa Nowa there were only '2 confirmed cases of scabies and 5 doubtful cases'. 1 received today a copy of a letter sent on 27 May by one of the Aboriginal women to whom I was introduced at Nowa Nowa to a friend in my electorate. She wrote:

I myself think the scabies are getting worse not better. My sister's family at Warragul are in a terrible state with the horrible skin disease. It's like a mange the children can't stop scratching. It's also at Bruthen, Bairnsdale and Lakes Entrance.

If Dr Mccloskey is unable or unwilling to recognise the gravity of the situation he should resign his high office in favour of someone who will take a less supine approach. The Assistant Chief Health Officer of Victoria should be giving more time to improving the health care delivery for which he is responsible and less to public controversies which are properly responsibilities of the Victorian Minister for Health and the Victorian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. Controversy should not be something at which public servants play while public services decay.

The Aboriginal people of East Gippsland have no faith left in health services provided by the Victorian Government. They regard officers of the Victorian Department of Health and of the Victorian Department of

Aboriginal Affairs not, I am sorry to say, as friends but as enemies. I was told at Nowa Nowa:

A woman had to take her S children to Bairnsdale to be immunised. She told the sister who was visiting that she had no car and couldn't afford the bus. The sister told her 'I'm sure you can hitch-hike'.

I was also told:

They have objected to the Save the Children Fund people de-lousing, worming and treating the scabies of children and also to them giving meals.

I was also told:

What we've got to do is to say that all responsibility for Aboriginal people should be taken by Canberra.

Dr Mccloskeywas quoted this morning in the Melbourne 'Age' as calling on the Federal Government to provide his Department with finance for which it asked on 6 April 'to appoint a medical officer as a health educator in the area'. He was quoted as saying:

We asked for finance to provide a health educator through the State Department of Aboriginal Affairs to the Commonwealth Department about seven weeks ago, but we haven't even received an acknowledgment of the request.

The finance to which Dr Mccloskey refers was requested to provide the car and salary for an officer who would operate not in East Gippsland alone but throughout Victoria. It was requested not to provide the health care services for which a need so clearly exists but to provide yet another health educator of the sort already familiar to the Aboriginal people and rejected by them. It was requested not as a matter for immediate action but as a routine item in the 1973-74 finance program. It was not ignored but rather made the subject of discussions between the Australian Government Departments of Health and Aboriginal Affairs and their Victorian counterparts.

I rise tonight, as I said at the outset, to thank my colleagues the Minister for Health and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs for the action that has been taken already in the light of my request that Australian Government medical staff should be sent as a matter of urgency to the East Gippsland area. The Assistant Director-General of the Department of Health, Dr W. A. Langsford, will visit Lake Tyers and neighbouring centres next week to inquire into the health of their Aboriginal citizens. At the request of Dr Langsford, a medical officer of the Victorian Department of Health went to Nowa Nowa today to investigate the incidence of scabies among the children at the Nowa Nowa school and the Save the Children Fund kindergarten.

I hope that this activity will lead before long to the establishment of the permanent medical centre through which alone an adequate standard of health care can be made available to the Aboriginal people of East Gippsland. I hope that it will lead to a situation in which scabies is something about which Aboriginal children may read but from which they will never suffer.

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