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Wednesday, 1 December 1976

Mr VINER (Stirling) (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) - I move:

(   1 ) That the following matter be referred to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs: The health problems of Aboriginals with particular attention to-

(a)   the prevalence of different types of disease suffered by Aboriginals and Aboriginal communities;

(b)   the relationship between Aboriginal health and environmental, social and cultural factors;

(c)   the effectiveness of existing health care programs for Aboriginals generally, and the adequacy of Western European-type health services to cope with the health problems of Aboriginals, and

(d)   alternative methods of health care delivery that take account of Aboriginals' life styles, including camp situations.

(2)   That the committee consider ways and means by which-

(a)   persons with appropriate qualifications can be encouraged to assist Aboriginals achieve a better standard of health, and

(b)   Aboriginals including traditional healers can participate in the development and delivery of health care services to their own communities, and in any modification of existing services.

(3)   That the committee recommend possible courses of action.

Honourable members will recall the discussion initiated by the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley) in this House on 3 November as a matter of public importance that the Government make a commitment to eliminate certain diseases from Aboriginal communities and establish a select committee of the House to this end. In the course of the ensuing debate my colleague, the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt), expressed the Government's concern at the health problems of Aborigines, particularly such diseases as trachoma and its incidence in central and northern Australia amongst the remote communities. The Minister spoke also of the readiness of the Government to consider the establishment of an appropriate committee to investigate this matter.

The Government's total funding for health services to Aborigines for 1976-77 is $ 15.9m. In addition to this, special funds of $600,000 have been provided by the Department of Health and my Department for a task force to conduct a pilot study to deal with trachoma and eye health amongst Aboriginal communities in central Australia. In the light of the earlier debate and the Government's own desire to seek a closer study of problems associated with eliminating diseases in Aboriginal communities, the Government has now decided that these problems of Aboriginal health should be referred to the Standing Committee of this House on Aboriginal Affairs for examination and to report its recommendations progressively to the Government. The Standing Committee already has in hand a study of alcohol problems amongst Aborigines in the course of which evidence on health factors has been given. It seems more appropriate therefore to build on the present work and developing expertise of the Standing Committee than to establish a new and separate committee to deal with incidences of particular diseases amongst Aboriginals.

I note that in the third main report of the Commission of Inquiry into Poverty presented by the Reverend George S. Martin, attention has been drawn to some specific problems in Aboriginal health which require investigation. I expect that the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs will therefore find that report of value as well as the Senate Committee's report on environmental conditions of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders which make some specific recommendations on Aboriginal health. Those recommendations are already under study by my Department in conjunction with the Department of Health.

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