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Tuesday, 9 March 1971

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I wish to speak about a matter concerning the Northern Territory. I refer to the lack of adequate medical facilities available to workers on Groote Eylandt at a mining project which apparently is solely owned by the Broken Hill Pty Co Ltd and which is covered by a Northern Territory ordinance. This matter was brought to my attention by Mr Gillman, a Commonwealth organiser of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, who recently visited Groote Eylandt on behalf of his union. He, his union and members of his organisation are very concerned at the inadequacy of medical facilities available to workers engaged on heavy construction projects at Groote Eylandt, and facilities available to their dependent families. Shortly, the history of the matter is as I shall now state.

In 1966 the mining venture at Groote Eylandt got under way and the Amalgamated Engineering Union, on behalf of its members, negotiated an award with the mining company. The union brought to the notice of the company the situation that existed in relation to the inadequacy of medical facilities then available. Apparently at that time the only medical facilities available were those provided by a nursing sister, with provision for a call back to the Flying Doctor Service if any form of emergency existed. But since 1966 a township has sprung up on Groote Eylandt and the population of the town has increased substantially. I have been told that the medical facilities at Groote Eylandt have not been improved in order to keep pace with the increase in population that has taken place. Apparently at this stage the population is still dependent most of the time on a nursing sister, and a doctor makes calls of about 4 days' duration about once every 3 weeks. From the Flying Doctor base at Gove to Groote Eylandt takes about 40 minutes flying time, and Darwin is about 2 hours flying time from Groote Eylandt. In the event of an emergency occurring and a doctor being required, if it is not at a time when the doctor is making one of his 3- weekly calls it is necessary to call in the

Flying Doctor service. So it would take 40 minutes for the doctor to get there from Gove and another 40 minutes to return to Gove, or if he came from Darwin it would take him 2 hours to get there and 2 hours to get back to Darwin.

I remind the Minister that these men are engaged in mining operations and heavy construction work. On behalf of the union I raised the matter with the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes). In the Minister's reply of 27th January 1971 he said that at present there is a population of about 750 at Groote Eylandt, comprised of 250 GEMCO workers, 300 construction workers and about 200 dependants. He said that in addition about 50 other people are concerned with prawn processing and about 800 Aboriginals and 30 Europeans are on settlements. Although the Minister states that there is a population of about 750 on Groote Eylandt, on his own figures the population is about 1,630. As to medical facilities, sisters are stationed at Umbakumba and Anguru missions and at Alyangula township and regular clinics are held by the sisters at those centres.

Groote Eylandt is visited every 3 weeks by a doctor from Nhulunbuy and more often if necessary. Urgent evacuations are arranged either to Gove or Darwin Hospital, depending on circumstances. The Minister said that he would investigate the matter further. After I again wrote to him, on 5th March he replied that the medical centre from which Groote Eylandt is served is Gove and that it is intended to station the sixth Dove aircraft in the Northern Territory at that centre. The Minister wrote:

This Dove aircraft is expected to be overhauled by DeHavilland at Bankstown during March and will be in service at Gove as soon as possible thereafter.

As I have said, no definite time has been set. The Minister went on:

A hangar for this aircraft is practically completed and accommodation for flying personnel is to be provided by Nabalco in Gove township. With the commissioning of this aircraft at Gove and completion of the hospital there it will be possible to provide an improved medical service for Groote Eylandt.

The doctor from Nhulunbuy usually stays 4 days and also visits the island at other times when the need arises. In fact, in the last 6 months of 1970 an additional visit was made during six of the eight 3-weekly periods concerned. I think the Minister's own statement indicates the necessity for more adequate medical facilities to be made available at the island, especially in view of the fact that the men there are engaged in mining and heavy construction work and that 1,630 people live within the immediate area.

Whilst it might be very desirable to have another aircraft stationed at Gove to operate in the area, the fact is that these pioneering people in a frontier area of Australia are engaged in heavy industrial and mining operations. They follow a very hazardous occupation which at any hour of any day could bring about an emergency situation. I suggest that they are entitled to better medical facilities than those which are intended to be provided by the present Government. I appeal to the Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin), who in this chamber represents the Minister for Health, to do all she possibly can to ensure that the Northern Territory Administration and the Minister for Health seriously and sypmathetically consider the reasonable and just request made by the industrial organisation on behalf of the people. As quickly as possible improved medical services should be provided at Groote Eylandt.

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