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Thursday, 26 June 2014
Page: 4071


Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South WalesParliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Services) (15:14): I rise to respond to some of the assertions that have been made by Senator Cameron in relation to foetal alcohol spectrum disorders. I reiterate that on 25 June the government announced that it would provide $9.2 million to the National Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Action Plan, to address the harmful impacts of FASD on children and families. As some may know, FASD and FAS describe a range of cognitive, learning, behavioural and developmental abnormalities caused by exposing the developing foetal brain to alcohol during pregnancy.

The government is committed to addressing this problem. A FASD technical network will be established under the guidance and chairmanship of Professor Elizabeth Elliott AM, who brings a wealth of experience in clinical service, research, technical and translation of policy regarding FASD to this very important role. Prevention of FASD is a key goal for the future. It is something that will require a multifaceted approach, including community and professional education, treatment for women who misuse alcohol and evidence based strategies to minimise risky drinking.

I will make some comments in relation to Indigenous issues and, again, correct some of the assertions that Senator Cameron has made. It is disappointing to see this sort of attack in this area because Indigenous affairs has traditionally been an area that has been removed from sharp partisan attacks in the past. The reality is that more money is not necessarily the answer to bettering Indigenous disadvantage. If this were the case, we would have dealt with these problems and closed the gap years ago.

For the record, I quote from an article that was written for The Australian by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Mr Tudge, who has special responsibilities for Indigenous issues. He states:

During the past decade, funding on indigenous affairs has increased by 80 per cent in real terms.

That translates to average government expenditure of $44,000 per Indigenous person, and that is according to the Productivity Commission. In practice, this funding has been reflected in a proliferation of programs in the Indigenous communities, some of which have now demonstrated, as an Auditor-General's report last year found, that a typical Indigenous community is serviced by one government program for every five members. Often you see a whirlwind of activity and government services providers driving or flying in and out of these communities, but, regrettably, the social and economic indicators stay the same, year after year.

Today, questions were asked in relation to programs. The government is amalgamating a plethora of programs in this space and shifting the Indigenous specific programs from eight government departments into one department, the Prime Minister's department, and then, in the budget, reducing the 150 programs into five broad, flexible ones, similar to the broadbanding that is also happening in the area of social services in the Department of Social Services. The important thing is to devolve decision making to the local level, where it will have greater impact. (Time expired)