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Monday, 23 November 2009
Page: 8552


Senator SIEWERT (3:27 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Special Minister of State (Senator Ludwig) to a question without notice asked by Senator Siewert today relating to a transportable dialysis machine in Alice Springs, Northern Territory.

It is quite clear that the government has failed to grasp the opportunity of pursuing funding and support for interstate patients needing dialysis in Alice Springs. As the minister articulated, the Commonwealth on 6 November said that they would be providing a transportable dialysis facility, to be placed in Alice Springs on a temporary basis until the new unit is in place in April—although it looks like that will not be available until June. That facility, apparently, is not going to accept new interstate patients.

As I articulated in this place last week, there are a number of patients located in Kiwirrkurra, for example, in the APY Lands, who are being refused access to Alice Springs. As the minister said, they are being told to go to their own states. Mr Tjungurrayi from Kiwirrkurra lives over 2,400 kilometres from Perth. He lives around 550 kilometres from Alice Springs and to get to Perth he has to fly via Alice Springs. So the Commonwealth government appears to accept that it is okay for patients not to have access to Alice Springs dialysis equipment and to be sent to Perth, where they do not speak the language, they have no family members and they feel totally isolated. As someone said to me, they see it as a one-way trip because you cannot go home for dialysis holidays from Perth like you can from Alice Springs.

Patrick, living in Kiwirrkurra, can go back to his home and go to Kintore if the NT government is willing to enter into a shared facility arrangement. He could have his first dialysis, have his medical condition stabilised, have a fistula implanted and then go home to Kiwirrkurra. He would then have to travel only 140 kilometres to Kintore. Patrick says he does not want to go to Perth and that he will stay in community, because he sees going to Perth, as I said, as a one-way trip. There are a number of patients in Central Australia who are choosing not to have dialysis because they do not want to leave country. In other words, these people, without this treatment, will pass away.

The Commonwealth have missed a golden opportunity to use their funding leverage. Last week they were arguing that dialysis is not provided by the Commonwealth. We have cleared that up; it clearly is. For a start, the Commonwealth have provided over $5.3 million for dialysis equipment, service and support. On top of that, they have provided a transportable dialysis service. Clearly, they are funding dialysis services and support in the Northern Territory. Why aren’t they making the provision of those services dependent on the Northern Territory treating patients who come from across the border—in other words, from Central Australia?

The Commonwealth have also funded facilities to go into remote communities, so quite clearly they also understand the importance of providing dialysis equipment and support in community. Yet again their response is: ‘People can go off community to Adelaide, Kalgoorlie or Perth—oh, except that Kalgoorlie is full. Sorry, you’ll have to go to Perth.’ The amazing thing is that if Mr Tjungurrayi were to go to Kalgoorlie he would have to fly from Kiwirrkurra to Alice Springs, from Alice Springs to Perth and from Perth to Kalgoorlie. Tell me how that is rational!

Alice Springs is the regional centre for people living in Central Australia. It is ridiculous for the Commonwealth to pretend it is acceptable for people to pass away rather than use its funding as a lever to require the Northern Territory to provide support for those people in Alice Springs. It would be the most sensible thing to do. The Commonwealth knows that. The Commonwealth should be putting pressure, unashamedly, on the Northern Territory, WA and South Australia to come up with an answer.

It is unacceptable to leave these Aboriginal Australians to be pawns in a state-territory-federal game, which is essentially what the government is doing. I do not know how it can say it is closing the gap when it is prepared to let these people pass away or to let this have a negative impact on their health. It is laughable to claim that we are closing the gap in Australia if that is what the Commonwealth is prepared to say. These people cannot wait till the new facility is in place in April or, as we have heard, probably not until June. They need urgent treatment now.

Question agreed to.