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Friday, 30 October 1970

Mr WENTWORTH (MACKELLAR, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Social Services) - Although 1 have heard of the report the honourable member mentions I have not had the opportunity of studying it in detail. I do, however, agree with the general nature of the findings, and they bear out the findings of the school on Aboriginal health, particularly Aboriginal infant health, which was sponsored by my own Office of Aboriginal Affairs some time ago. I do agree, of course, that there are these serious diseases in the Aboriginal population. They are much less prevalent than they were because we are improving the situation but their incidence is still far too high. I am not satisfied with it and I do not think the honourable member will be satisfied with it either.

As to the point he raises regarding deafness, yes, the respiratory diseases are quite strongly established in the Aboriginal population. I am not quite certain and, indeed, I think the medical profession would not regard itself as being completely certain, of the causes. To some extent this could be due to lack of Aboriginal immunity to some of the respiratory infections which we have introduced from overseas. To some extent it is due, I think, to the fact that Aboriginals live in smoke fined rooms or even smoke filled huts. This is something which they prefer to do even when more adequate accommodation is provided, although I would not say that in all cases by any means there is adequate alternative accommodation provided. I shall look particularly at the aspect which the honourable member raises because I am convinced that deafness is the cause of many of the imputed cases of mental retardation in both the Aboriginal and European population and that something effective can be done about this. The Government's proposals in regard to handicapped children relate to both Aboriginal and European children and are directed towards this objective.

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