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Tuesday, 4 April 2000
Page: 15117

Mr SNOWDON (2:23 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Prime Minister, is it a fact that the Aboriginal Eye Health Program in Queensland has stalled since 1997 when the federal government took it over from the Fred Hollows Foundation? Will you confirm that, when the Hollows Foundation operated the program, there were 32 eye doctors available to do the work, but that now there is just one optometrist who is sent to centres on an irregular basis and who cannot diagnose eye disease or conduct eye surgery? Prime Minister, is this what the Minister for Health and Aged Care meant when he said, in June 1997, that you would finish the job Dr Hollows started 20 years ago? Why should any Australian trust you when you claim to be committed to practical reconciliation?

Dr WOOLDRIDGE (Minister for Health and Aged Care) —I thank the honourable member for his question. I can give the honourable member some advice off the top of my head. I was very concerned about eye health, and I asked Professor Hugh Taylor to review Aboriginal eye health. I must say his report, which I released publicly some time ago, was deeply disturbing. It showed that today, in many parts of Australia, we are no better off than we were 20 years ago when Fred Hollows did his pioneering work. The point is that you were in government for 13 of those years, and there has been no progress in this area.

Ms Macklin —What have you done since—

Dr WOOLDRIDGE —The member for Jagajaga asks what we have done. I would say the first thing we have done is put azithromycin on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, which has led to a great increase in the ability to treat eye disease amongst Aboriginal people.

There is a problem relating to surgeons. The problem relates to how we pay people who operate in public hospitals, and of course the payment for non-insured patients in public hospitals has always been the province of state governments. We have hit a brick wall here because the state government in Queensland is refusing to treat its Aboriginal constituents in the same way as it treats all other constituents. I think this is outrageous and a scandal. So I would say to the honourable member: perhaps you could use some of your influence with your Labor Party colleagues in Queensland and see if they would treat the Aboriginal citizens the way they treat everybody else.