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Thursday, 16 October 2003
Page: 21650

Mr JOHN COBB (2:46 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Health and Ageing. Would the minister inform the House what action the government has taken to improve the health of Indigenous Australians around Australia in areas like my electorate of Parkes?

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Health and Ageing) —I regret to inform the member for Parkes that Aboriginal health is one of the most intractable problems that Australia faces. On all of the indicators—life expectancy, infant mortality, incidence of diabetes—Aboriginals do significantly worse than the general community. I can also inform the House that the government are spending more, and spending it more creatively, in an attempt to make a difference. This year we are spending $258 million on Indigenous specific health programs. This is a 50 per cent real increase on Indigenous health spending since 1996. I will give just a few examples of where we are making a difference. Thanks to a federally funded project at the Townsville Aboriginal and Islander Health Service, the incidence of low birth weight babies has dropped from 17 per cent in 2000 to nine per cent this year.

In another federally funded project for the Nganampa Health Council in South Australia, the incidence of low birth weight babies has dropped from around 15 per cent in the mid-1980s to just five per cent now. Also, immunisation rates amongst Indigenous people there have gone from 60 per cent to almost 100 per cent, thanks to this federally funded project. Another federally funded project, in the Torres Strait, involves comprehensive diabetes management and has led to a 32 per cent reduction in hospital admissions amongst Indigenous people. In the current financial year we are spending over $16 million to support 67 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs to try and rein in substance abuse amongst Indigenous people. There are a whole range of factors that contribute to Aboriginal ill health—isolation, lifestyle, diet. Most of these are not readily amenable to government influence, but the government are determined to work with Indigenous people to try to produce better services, better structures and better communities to help produce the stronger social fabric which will ultimately produce healthier and happier people.