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Tuesday, 24 February 2015
Page: 1175

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON (Werriwa) (20:00): As other speakers have detailed, this, the seventh report, does have a few positive facets: as indicated, the improvement in life expectancy and, despite the continued abysmal situation, the improvement in regard to low birth weights et cetera. However, the context has to be a three-times-greater rate of suffering from diabetes, a two-times-greater rate of chronic kidney disease, two-times-greater risk factors for cardiovascular disease and, of course, the reality that all of those problems are interconnected as risk factors for each other.

The previous speaker detailed the life expectancy difference between New Zealand Maoris and Australian Indigenous people. The disturbing facet is, however, that, whilst we are still behind the New Zealand situation, it has actually, in a relative sense, deteriorated over the past few years. If we look at New Zealand Maori life expectancy, it improved significantly, by four years, over the period from 2002 to now. When we look at the improvements in Australia, they have been nothing like that.

In one sense, the condition of Australian Indigenous people is similar to the destruction by Israel this week of a number of Bedouin houses; the fact that in Japan people have books of surnames and genealogies to make sure they do not intermarry with Ainu; the situation in Botswana, where the government was going to deprive the San people of their living space for major game safari areas; and the situation in South America, where in Peru and Ecuador we see indigenous people marginalised and unable to participate in negotiations around oil and gas exploration. In one sense, Australian Indigenous people are part of a worldwide phenomenon of colonisation, deprivation and marginalisation.

However, what is disturbing is that, in a work back in 2007 by Freemantle, Officer and McAullay, done by the Kulunga Research Network and commissioned by Oxfam, the following realities were described:

The mortality rates reported in Australia for Aboriginal people are higher than those reported in New Zealand, Canada and the USA … Disparities exist in reported life expectancy … in the four countries. However, the highest disparity … has been reported in Australia … Infant mortality is also higher and the disparity greater …

Furthermore, there are:

… lower levels of access to health services than the general population, in some part due to residing further from health services and also as a result of socioeconomic status, availability of transport and ability to speak English …

So this country should be disturbed not only that our statistics are alarming but that they are very negative in contrast to indigenous populations in other First World countries that we might compare ourselves to.

I have, of course, noted reduced government expenditure in regard to many aspects of Indigenous people's lives. One that many members would have had their attention directed to today is the question of the Aboriginal Legal Service. An email today asking members to take up the issues noted that in the ACT and New South Wales there will be a loss of $3 million from the annual budget of the relevant Aboriginal Legal Service and that 40 of the 185 staff members will be looking for alternative employment at Centrelink.

The situation, of course, is interrelated to the health issues because of the high incarceration rate of Australian Aboriginals and the impact that has on families, lifestyle et cetera. In 1991, of course, we had a Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. But the Australian Institute of Criminology, in 2013, could still detail that, whilst Indigenous Australians constitute only 2½ per cent of our population, they constitute over a quarter of those in the adult prison population of the country. In the Northern Territory, they are 30 per cent of the people and 82 per cent of the prison population. In Western Australia, they are three per cent of the population but 38 per cent of adults in detention. Due to the over-representation, whilst the percentage of deaths of Indigenous people in detention is going down, in absolute numbers it is going up. Between 2008 and 2011, of 159 deaths in custody 33 were Indigenous Australians.

What is disturbing, and interrelated to the question of health and services, is the reason why many of those people are in detention. In New South Wales, a survey of the prison population showed that 55 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and 64 per cent of women had a drug use issue which related to the offence committed. Fifty-five per cent of Indigenous male detainees and 48 per cent of women had self-reported mental conditions. So to reduce assistance to the Aboriginal Legal Service, in a country which has such abysmal, disgraceful, internationally embarrassing levels of incarceration and deaths in custody, would not really seem to be a very valuable addition to countering the health problems.

Of course, there have been suggestions as to where we should go. In the Summary of Australian Indigenous health, the following were put forward as being amongst the emphases that this country should have:

having Indigenous Health Workers on staff

increasing the number of Indigenous people working in the health sector …

designing health promotion campaigns especially for Indigenous people

having culturally competent non-Indigenous staff

making important health services available in rural and remote locations (so Indigenous people living in rural and remote areas do not have to travel to cities, away from the support of their friends and families)

One of the other things that come out in all the health analyses in this country is that, if you have two people with a condition, the survival rate because of these factors for Indigenous Australians is very much lower. The other suggestion was:

funding health services so they are affordable for Indigenous people who might otherwise not be able to afford them.

We have mentioned many of the other health statistics, but I will just go through a few others in a disturbing picture.

In Australia's health 2014, by AIHW, under 'Indigenous health', the largest gap in death rates between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians was in circulatory disease deaths, followed by endocrine, metabolic and nutritional disorders. Indigenous Australians were five times as likely as non-Indigenous Australians to die from these. Indigenous children aged nought to four died at more than twice the rate of non-Indigenous children. After adjusting for differences in age structure and response rates, Indigenous Australians aged under 65 were more than twice as likely as non-Indigenous Australians to require assistance with daily activities because of disabilities. Two out of five Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over were current smokers. The proportion of Indigenous adults who smoke daily has decreased, of course, but is still disturbingly high.

In conclusion, there are some positives in this report. They do perhaps indicate that an emphasis on this—the fact that it is in the public domain, that people talk about it and that there is this annual discussion about it—has accomplished some gains. However, when we look at the poor base from which we are coming, when we look at international comparisons, when we look at the still very high mortality rates and the proportion of a wide variety of diseases, there is not much to really be joyful about. This does indicate a further need to focus on the issue, and it certainly will not be improved by very extensive cutbacks in expenditure in the area of Indigenous health in this first budget from the government.