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Wednesday, 16 September 2015
Page: 7001

Indigenous Eye Health


Senator CANAVAN (QueenslandNationals Whip in the Senate) (14:59): My question is to the Assistant Minister for Health, Senator Nash. Can the minister advise the Senate of new government investments to enhance Indigenous eye health as part of the government's Closing the Gap recommendations?


Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate and Assistant Minister for Health) (14:59): I understand that Senator Siewert has a notice of motion later today, and I acknowledge her continuing efforts to improve Indigenous eye health. I am pleased to advise the Senate that the government will be investing $4.6 million over four years, from 2015-16, towards enhancing Indigenous eye health through the provision of eye health coordinators. The eye health sector, in particular the Chair of Vision 2020, the Hon. Amanda Vanstone—well-known to this chamber—and Professor Hugh Taylor of the Indigenous Eye Health Unit at the University of Melbourne, has strongly advocated for national oversight of Indigenous eye health, and I am pleased to be able to announce this today.

A key recommendation of Professor Taylor's report The Roadmap to Close the Gap for Vision notes the importance of eye care coordination, particularly at a national level, to improve service planning and delivery. The role of eye health coordinators will include work to improve the eye care pathway from patient entry to completion of care, thereby improving the patient journey and enhancing efficiency of services at the local, regional and jurisdictional levels. Eye health coordinators will work with stakeholders such as local hospital networks, Primary Health Networks and Indigenous health services to ensure that use of local service providers and existing health systems is maximised.

I congratulate the representatives of the Indigenous eye health sector who collaborated to bring forward this funding proposal. In particular, I would like to acknowledge Vision 2020 for finalising a proposal which brings together the sector for the first time to deliver this program. Other members I would like to acknowledge include the Indigenous Eye Health Unit at the University of Melbourne, Optometry Australia, the Fred Hollows Foundation, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists and the Australian Society of Ophthalmologists. I am pleased to inform the chamber this funding builds on the existing coalition government investment of $35.7 million.


Senator CANAVAN (QueenslandNationals Whip in the Senate) (15:01): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister update the Senate about how the government is tackling the problem of trachoma in Indigenous communities?


Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate and Assistant Minister for Health) (15:01): In addition to my announcement, I am also delighted to inform the Senate that funding of up to $1.6 million over two years will be provided to the Indigenous Eye Health Unit at the University of Melbourne to undertake trachoma health promotion. This was also a component of the Indigenous eye health sector proposal. Trachoma is a major blinding infectious eye disease occurring in 60 per cent of outback communities. Australia has made good progress in reducing the rates of trachoma but more work is required to achieve elimination. This funding will go towards health promotion focusing on clean faces and safe bathrooms to complement other existing trachoma activities. Again, I would like to acknowledge the continued advocacy of Professor Taylor over many years and note the government will be continuing to work closely with him to eradicate trachoma.


Senator CANAVAN (QueenslandNationals Whip in the Senate) (15:02): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister inform the Senate how these investments in Indigenous health care build upon existing efforts to close the gap in health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples?


Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate and Assistant Minister for Health) (15:02): This government is committed to closing the gap and achieving health equality between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and non-Indigenous Australians. We recognise that good health is a key enabler to do this and for children to go to school, for adults to lead productive working lives and for building strong and resilient communities.

In addition to smoking prevention programs, key investments over the next three years include $1.4 billion to the Aboriginal community controlled health services for primary and preventative care, $154.5 million to the New directions: mothers and babies services program for child and maternal health services and $62.6 million to the Australian Nurse-Family Partnership program to provide targeted support to high-need Indigenous Australians. Improving Indigenous health is a priority for the government and all healthcare providers both within the community controlled healthcare system and the mainstream system. Ensuring continuity of care is vital for this government— (Time expired)

Senator Abetz: Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on notice.

Senator Wong: Mr President, I rise on a point of order and I apologise that it is raised belatedly, but I have only been advised of the comment during the course of question time. I understand that during the course of question time Senator Macdonald made an inappropriate interjection in which he stated, 'Learn to speak Australian.' I would ask that that be withdrawn.

Senator Ian Macdonald: Mr President, on the point of order, I said, 'Learn to speak Australian, mate.'

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on both sides! I do not want a debate across the chamber about this.

Senator Wong interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Wong, you have raised a point of order. On advice and from my own observation I do not see that that is unparliamentary language.

Senator Wong: I will respectfully disagree with you, and I would say that in a multicultural society that thing ought not be said in the national parliament.

The PRESIDENT: I have ruled on the point of order.