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Tuesday, 6 November 1973
Page: 1519

Senator WHEELDON (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - I direct my question to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. Is it a fact that on 20 September this year the former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs announced that the Federal Government was to send up to 5 Aboriginal nursing sisters to Palm Island aboriginal reserve in an attempt to help to cure the current outbreak of gastro-enteritis and scabies and the continuing problem of malnutrition? Were the sisters sent? Is it a fact that the one sister who did go was refused access to the hospital? Was she recalled by the Federal Government? If so, why? Does the Federal Government propose to take any further action regarding the present health problems on Palm Island?

Senator CAVANAGH - As I understand the position, the former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs announced on 20 September that the Government would do all it could to alleviate the outbreak of diseases or complaints on Palm Island. A statement was made that 5 Aboriginal nurses would be sent. I believe that 5 Aboriginal nurses were not available. One Aboriginal nurse was sent from Melbourne to the island. I received a report from Senator Keeffe that she was to be sent home from the island at the time when her services were most needed. I took the matter up with my Department, which reported that there was some opposition to the nurse proceeding to the island. The Queensland Government was opposed to an Aboriginal nurse going to the island. The nurse went to the island, but the authorities would not permit her access to the hospital. I was informed that the local indigenous people would not accept her as a nurse on the island and therefore she was simply doing nothing.

The nurse was paid for by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. It was decided that if her services could be utilised, if the indigenous people were willing to receive treatment from her and if the need existed, my Department would continue to pay her to remain on the island. I have since learned that she has left the island. The big problem with Queensland and the Torres Strait Islands is that they are operating under the Queensland Act. There has been no co-operation between the Federal Government and the Queensland Government in an attempt to resolve the question whether there should be greater participation by the Commonwealth in the activities of the native people of such areas. We hope that greater progress can be made in the future. I am looking forward to meeting the authorities in Queensland, in order to see whether we can resolve this matter, as soon as this Parliament rises at the end of this session.

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