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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 1070

Mr SNOWDON (Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Minister for Defence Science and Personnel and Minister for Indigenous Health) (8:51 PM) —Firstly, I thank the member for Hasluck for his contribution and his somewhat prophetic yet wise words. I acknowledge the First Australians, one of the oldest continuing cultures in human history, the original owners of this land, and ancestors past and present.

I know that the Prime Minister has once again committed to reporting to parliament on annual progress towards closing the gap on Indigenous disadvantage. We recognise this is a national goal which will not be achieved in a parliamentary term. We can, must and will continue to work together to improve the status of our First Australians.

Last week, after the statement was made, I was delighted to accompany the Prime Minister, Minister Macklin and Minister Roxon to a meeting with a delegation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders from various health and related organisations. I am very happy to report that the sentiment of the morning was of renewed energy and intent—intent to work together in partnership with the Australian government, intent to provide leadership and a national voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and intent for action and to make a change in the lives of their fellow people.

As the Minister for Indigenous Health, I can report that there has been significant action towards closing the gap in Indigenous health outcomes. We are investing $1.2 billion in Indigenous Pacific expenditure for the 2010-11 financial year. This is an 87 per cent increase since 2007-08. Last year I informed the House of our progress with the Commonwealth’s $805.5 million Indigenous chronic disease package. The package targets key risk factors, chronic disease management and expanding the workforce. Substantial milestones have been achieved: a total of 337 new positions for the Indigenous health workforce; more doctors, nurses and medical specialists on the ground; and more than 29,000 adult health checks in 2009-10, an increase of 26.1 per cent on the previous year. As at 31 December 2010, 41,320 eligible Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people accessed medicines. As at 31 October 2010, around 1,600 practices in Indigenous health services had registered approximately 25,000 eligible patients to the PIP Indigenous Health Incentive program to provide better chronic disease management.

In the area of child and maternal health, as reported by the Prime Minister, we are confident of being able to halve the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous children under five by 2018. The 2010 report by the National Indigenous Health Equality Council, on which the member for Hasluck was formerly a member, advised that the Indigenous infant mortality rate has been declining and the gap has been narrowing. In 2009-10, 10 new child and maternal health services were approved for funding across Australia, bringing the total to 63 services funded under the New Directions Mothers and Babies Services program. A total of up to 11,000 Indigenous babies and their mothers may be assisted over five years under the $90.3 million program. We can, we must and we will continue our efforts in child and maternal health programs to ensure that all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids have the best start to life. We are on track. There is a long way to go, but we are on track.

In the area of male health, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men play a significant role in the lives of families and the wider community. In May 2010, the National Male Health Policy was launched, which includes a focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men. As part of this policy, the $6 million Strong Fathers Strong Families Program will promote the role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander fathers, partners, grandfathers and uncles, and encourage them to actively participate in their children’s and families’ lives. The program will commence shortly and provide funding for projects to develop male-friendly, father-inclusive services, practices and information in existing Commonwealth funded antenatal and child and maternal health programs.

At a national level, there is also partnership. At all levels, we need to work in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples is the platform for a national voice with which government will partner. Let there be no doubt of this government’s intent to support the national congress as the appropriate representative mechanism for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The Australian government has committed $29.2 million to the setting up and initial operation of the congress. I encourage all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations to become members.

In 2008 the National Indigenous Health Equality Council was established as an independent expert committee to provide policy advice regarding the Australian government’s commitment to closing the gap. NIHEC has made significant progress towards improving our abilities to measure how we are tracking to close the gap. It was the NIHEC report in 2010 which indicated the positive trends in improving the gap in child mortality. In mid-2011 the current NIHEC membership will lapse and I will be appointing a new committee with a new work plan. I look forward to working closely with the national congress and NIHEC.

I want to speak briefly about the often unknown and unacknowledged organisations and individuals that are driving change in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health—Indigenous health organisations such as the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association and the professional organisations for nurses and other health workers. I also must mention the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services, which do fantastic work in delivering fantastic primary health care to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and their peak organisation, the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, NACCHO, and its state affiliates, with whom I work very closely. The first Indigenous doctor in Queensland and current Director of the Inala Indigenous Health Service, Associate Professor Noel Hayman, is an outstanding example of a dedicated Aboriginal man committed to improving Indigenous health. Within the healthcare sector, there is Indigenous leadership with a strong voice and determination to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

There is a call for a new national Indigenous health equality plan. I am acutely aware of the Close the Gap coalition’s call for the government to urgently progress a national Indigenous health equality plan. I recently met with members of the Close the Gap coalition and informed them of my support for and intention to work with the national congress on developing this. I will be directly responsible for the consultation and development of the plan. The plan will build on existing structures, such as the National Strategy Framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and COAG’s statement of intent, and will take into account wider reforms to the health and hospital system. The plan must acknowledge the significant funding allocations made by the government to close the gap in health inequality and should create practical benefits and efficiencies in allocation of existing resources.

We have turned a corner in establishing the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples. There is now a national mechanism for a partnership on closing the gap in Indigenous disadvantage, a partnership I know that the member for Hasluck will support. I look forward to working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health leaders and their organisations to make a difference in the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Debate (on motion by Mr Entsch) adjourned.