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Treaty plus indigenous funding boost equals good health.



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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission

Media Releases

Treaty plus Indigenous Funding Boost Equals Good Health

19/5/2003

A significant funding boost for Indigenous health and housing and the negotiation of a Treaty were crucial to the improvement of the appalling health of Indigenous peoples, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Chairman Geoff Clark said today.

Mr Clark told the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York that the Australian Medical Association had been calling for several years for an annual increase of $245 million on Indigenous health spending.

There was also a demonstrated unmet critical need of $3.5 billion for housing and infrastructure which should be funded by quarantining part of the existing Medicare levy, he said.

He also said it was time for the Federal Government to reconsider its out-of-hand rejection of ATSIC’s call for negotiation of a Treaty.

“We say it is no coincidence that the health status of Indigenous peoples in countries similar to ours - the United States, Canada and New Zealand - is improving more rapidly.

“All of these countries have signed Treaties which have given official, legal and constitutional recognition to their first peoples. There has been a sustained commitment to addressing social and cultural needs while ensuring Indigenous peoples have greater control over their own lives.”

An Australian Treaty would enable Indigenous peoples to have a fair and equitable share of the vast resources wealth in the nation’s lands and seas as was the case for Indigenous peoples who were signatories to Treaty agreements.

“It is well past the time for our political leaders to face up to their responsibility to make a fair and just settlement with the dispossessed and rightful owners of our country’s lands and seas.

“We could break the shackles of welfare and pay our own way if only we were given our fair share. We will never escape our poverty prison being fed a diet of crumbs from the table.”

Mr Clark also told the Forum the health of his country’s Indigenous peoples was the

worst of any Indigenous population in any comparably developed country.

The life expectancy of Indigenous people in Australia was 20 years less than the rest of the population and half of Indigenous men died by the age of 50, he said.

“There is no more damning indictment of the effects of colonisation in our country than the appalling health of our Indigenous peoples.

“Living in one of the most developed countries in the world, our lifespans are comparable with the peoples of Lesotho, Western Sahara or Iraq.

“To be an Indigenous person in our country is to live a life measured out by funerals.

Too often too soon we lose so many of our family members, friends, leaders and activists. The cost to our communities is incalculable”.

Mr Clark also said there has been an escalating epidemic of mental illness fuelled by the abuse of alcohol and substances including petrol, marijuana and heroin.

“Perhaps the greatest tragedy of all is that so many deaths could have been avoided - through education, employment and access to decent housing, infrastructure and health care,” he said.

Further information: Paul Molloy 0419 690 926 ATSIC Communications