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Thursday, 12 October 1972
Page: 1499

Senator MURPHY (NEW SOUTH WALES) - My question is directed to the Minister for Health. Is it a fact that the infant mortality rate among Australian Aborigines is far and away the highest infant mortality rate in the world? Is it also a fact that it is becoming even worse? Will the Minister tell the Senate the reason for this set of circumstances which is becoming an international scandal what has been done about it and what is proposed to bc done about it?


The infant mortality rate goes up and down. There has been a cycle.

Senator Keeffe - It is mostly up.


I am answering the question, and I do not need any help from the gods. I do not think Senator Keeffe would understand what I mean when I say 'the gods'. That is another story.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - He is not in the front stalls.

Senator Sir KENNETH ANDERSON - No he is not in the front stalls. As I indicated in response to a question earlier this week, in the Northern Territory there has been a departmental reorganisation of health facilities. As from July the Department of Health per se has been giving a much more direct coverage of health facilities in the Territory. There has been a variation in health, particularly in relation to Aborigines. I do not agree with Senator Murphy that the infant mortality rate among Aborigines is rising again. My understanding, subject to correction, is that it is in the down cycle. In early September I issued a Press statement in which I indicated that the Department was embarking upon a special immunisation campaign. I think it was completed in September in the Centre and in a large area south of Elliott. Mortality rates among Aborigines indicate that approximately 40 per cent of deaths occur in the first year of life. That figure is considerably higher than the total Australian figure. The main causes of infant deaths are premature birth, gastro-enteritis and respiratory infections.

This is a serious matter and I do not walk away from that fact. Big efforts are being made in relation to this matter by my Department. As is known, early in the life of my responsibility for this portfolio, I visited the Centre, A motel was purchased in Alice Springs so that we could achieve separation from the hospital. One of the problems that we discovered was that Aboriginal kiddies who had entered the hospital faced the danger of infection to themselves from other sick cases during the convalescent period. When they recovered sufficiently to return to their natural environment with their parents, very often it was difficult to be satisfied that they could return with a reasonable expectation of maintaining their recovery.

As a result of the acquisition of this motel, we are able to hold these children longer in the Alice Springs area. The motel has been converted for this purpose. When these children return to their settlements or, very often, to their tribal communities, there is a better chance that what we have been able to do for them in hospital will stay with them. Under the new arrangements with the settlements themselves, the Department of Health will move, as it has already moved, certain nurses into these areas. Quite a critical redevelopment of nursing care in the various settlements will occur. As I said yesterday, in these areas we may be able to work harder on the principle of prevention being better than cure.

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