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Wednesday, 26 April 1972
Page: 1334

Senator BONNER (QUEENSLAND) - I ask the Minister for Health whether he is aware that the Director of Health in the Northern Territory recently gave evidence before the Senate Standing Committee on Social Environment to the effect that the situation in relation to Aboriginal health in the Northern Territory was not improving. Has the Minister any comment to make on this matter?

Senator Sir KENNETH ANDERSON - lt is true that some evidence was given to an inquiry on health in the Northern Territory about native bom babies. All I can say is that the Department of Health in the Northern Territory has, over a period of time, made strenuous efforts to combat the problems that exist, particularly those in the field of medicine, nursing and nutrition. In the relatively short time I have been Minister for Health I have been to the Northern Territory twice to investigate these problems. As the Senate would know, during my time as Minister for Health the Department of Health has acquired what was the Mount Gillen Motel and converted it into a care centre for, in particular, the babies and young children in the Centre. The efforts we have made over a period of time have saved the lives of many children who would otherwise have died. In the process of doing so we have increased the strain on the existing medical and hospital activities. The problems that exist and the chronic illnesses that have occurred have placed a very heavy and continuing strain on my Department's resources.

I feel that I would like to make a statement in some depth on the matter. It has become clear that in order to lower the levels of infant and child morbidity and mortality among Aborigines in the Northern Territory it is necessary to have an improvement in the general socio-economic status of Aborigines. To a high degree that would go beyond my Department's direct responsibility. The need for social progress is particularly evident in such areas as personal and community hygiene and sanitation. An awareness of the causation of disease is one of the requirements of healthy living in larger communities. It is a very complex problem. I do not think that I should at question time go beyond saying that, in collaboration with the other departments which are involved, I am working hard on the matter, f would like to have some discussions with, in particular the welfare section of the Department of the Interior before I proceed any further by way of giving an answer in depth. It is a complex problem. It is a "latter which is a source of continual anxiety to us all. What has to be understood is that whilst one can do all the nest things in the world in the way of providing medical care the real essence of the problem which exists in the Aboriginal community, particularly in relation to babies, is one of prevention of disease. That is the essence of the thing. Prevention is something which, with all the best goodwill in the world, is nol directly within my responsibility. But, as a responsible Minister for State. I would not walk away from any responsibility ro do all that I can to get to the source of the problem, which is really and truly in the area of prevention of disease. If we can get that going in a much more effective manner than it is going at the present time we will be automatically able to take the weight of the load off the medical services, which are overbearing on the medical resources of the Commonwealth in the Territory up to this point of time.

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