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Thursday, 21 October 2010
Page: 1154

Mr NEUMANN (3:20 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Minister for Defence Science and Personnel and Minister for Indigenous Health. Would the minister inform the House about progress to close the gap in respect of Indigenous health outcomes?

Mr SNOWDON (Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Minister for Defence Science and Personnel and Minister for Indigenous Health) —I thank the member for Blair for his question. Together he and I visited an Aboriginal medical centre in his electorate a couple of months ago. I know of his commitment to join with us in ensuring that we close the gap in Indigenous health outcomes. I know it is a view that is supported across the chamber, and I am pleased to announce and reaffirm our commitment to closing the gap in Indigenous health outcomes. That is reflected in the partnership between ourselves and the state governments through the COAG process, where we have jointly committed $1.6 billion for that purpose, $808.5 million of which is from the Commonwealth to address chronic disease.

It is worth pointing out that this financial year we are investing $1.2 billion in Indigenous-specific expenditure for 2010-11. This is an 87 per cent increase over what it was in 2007-08. But it is not just about money. We need to make a difference, and clearly that is quite difficult. We need to—and we must—close the gap in life expectancy within a generation and halve the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous children under five years of age by 2018. I think all members would share the view that closing the gap in life expectancy will not be easy and that it will be some time before we can achieve concrete outcomes. But there are some good signs, and these are in the area of child mortality. The National Indigenous Health Equality Council, chaired by Professor Ian Anderson, of which the new member for Hasluck was formerly a member, has advised us that we are on track in addressing the issue of infant mortality. We believe that we can now halve the gap in Indigenous infant mortality within the decade, and that is a very important outcome for all of us.

The implementation of the government’s $805.5 million chronic disease package will take time. It is important to understand some of the limitations in improving health outcomes amongst Indigenous Australians. One area that I will concentrate on for just a brief moment is smoking. Amongst Indigenous people, 50 per cent smoke. The figure for the non-Indigenous population in this country is around 18 per cent for people aged over 14. The stark difference means that if we want to change the life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people we have to effect changes in smoking. That is why we have invested $115 million in addressing smoking amongst Indigenous Australians.

There is a lot to be done, but I am sure that, working with the state governments, working with the private sector and making sure that we continue to work constructively with Aboriginal health organisations throughout the country, together we can make a difference and we can close the gap.

Ms Gillard —Mr Speaker, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.

Mr Pyne —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The agreement explicitly requires that 20 questions be asked or that question time finish at 3.30 pm. It is not 3.30 pm, and we have not had 20 questions. On what basis is the Prime Minister moving that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper?

The SPEAKER —That is not a point of order. I cannot answer on behalf of the Prime Minister, as per the standing orders.

Opposition members interjecting—

The SPEAKER —The standing orders do not relate to the number of questions, and there was no change to the fact that the Prime Minister could ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper. I accept that that was a question to me, and I apologise.