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Wednesday, 1 December 1976

Mr BEAZLEY (Fremantle) -The Opposition very much welcomes the motion that has been advanced by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) and notes that the terms of reference are not limited to the Northern Territory. I take it that the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs will be free to investigate Aboriginal health everywhere in Australia- the Kimberleys and elsewhere. This is very important and I hope that the Committee does receive the co-operation of the State authorities which are charged with some aspects of health in their own areas. We are particularly gratified at the wide terms of reference that have been given to the Committee. There is no doubt that there are many diseases which are almost entirely confined to the Aboriginal community. I speak of tuberculosis, yaws, leprosy, hookworm and trachoma. The numbers of people of European background who suffer from any of those diseases would be very few. The number of Aborigines who suffer from them, I understand, is quite large. I agree with the Minister that the latest report of the Commission of Inquiry into Poverty does give some important leads. I think that paragraph 2 (b) of the Minister's motion is very important. It states:

Aborigines 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.

I hope that the recommendations will be sensitive to the status of traditional Aboriginal healers. We will have to be careful that we do not intervene in such a way that the health policies of Europeans will reduce the Aboriginal traditional healers to a menial status. The Aborigines have a great respect for their traditional healers. It is very interesting also to note that they have a great respect for older European doctors. I understand that a New Zealander, a senior doctor, who was employed by the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress or under its auspices and who is shortly to leave the area, was greatly respected because of his age and also because of his personal qualities.

The investigation that is suggested here is overdue. We have tended to believe in the past that if we set up facilities for the whole community in the Northern Territory or elsewhere then they were accessible to Aborigines. I understand that the medical service of the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress has on its clinic books some 8600 Aborigines which shows that the Aborigines have confidence in the form of medicine which goes to them, and they are more diffident about approaching organisations like hospitals and so on at Alice Springs. Investigation as to how effectively to deliver health care to them, having regard to their traditions and their location, is a matter which I think is overdue. I should like to congratulate the Minister on the motion which he has put before the House. I should like also to express the Opposition's support for and interest in the motion. I am sure that the Opposition members of this Committee will regard it as a tremendous opportunity to serve the Aboriginal people. It will also enable the Aboriginal people to defend their health standards. I hope in the forms of health care that are set up and in the action taken that we will win their cooperation

The last point I want to make is that I understand that under the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress the Aboriginal people themselves have very much wanted instruction for women and for men in health care. I believe that a Dr Helen Thorn is doing work in this regard as far as the health education of Aboriginal women is concerned. I believe there is now a need for a male doctor to help the men in health education. This is allowed for in the terms of reference and it is one gratifying feature of the Minister's motion. I am quite sure that the motion has the support of this side of the House.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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