The importance of fixing the ongoing problems with the ACT public health system

I would like to thank Mrs Dunne for bringing this very important matter to the attention of the Assembly. I note that this is an issue which the Opposition and, Mrs Dunne in particular have fought to highlight and resolve for the residents of Canberra.

Unfortunately I think we are all well aware and appalled by the Governments poor performance across the public health system - What I seek to highlight today is both the empty promises and, poor performance for Canberra’s indigenous community.

Recently the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare released a report on the health status of the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. Whilst it is pleasing to see there have been improvements in some areas such as:

  • - rates for indigenous health checks,
  • - immunisation rates for children, and
  • - increases to the number of children doing physical activity

There is still a long way to go in the ACT across many health indicators. This same report identified issues of notable concern in the ACT.

  • There is a high rate of hospitalisation for injury and poisoning;
  • The proportion of Indigenous households living in dwellings of an unacceptable standard has increased from 8.4% in 2008 to 17%;
  • There are low employment rates;
  • There are high levels of physical or threatened violence;
  • There is a large increase in levels of psychological stress;
  • The rate of disability or restrictive long term health conditions was almost twice as high as for non-Indigenous residents;
  • The is an unacceptable high rate of self-harm of Indigenous females; and
  • the high rate of hospitalisation for alcohol related issues.

Now, this list is not exhaustive and these are just the issues of notable concern – there are also many others. Sadly this report is not the first to raise these issues nor is it unique in its findings. It seems that no matter how many reports and reviews are commissioned, the Government is just not listening. They may try to give that appearance, but action and results matter more than words.

What I want to know is where are the funded, targeted initiatives to enable the indigenous population of Canberra to have culturally appropriate health care - let alone access to a quality public health system?

I note that even advice from the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body is often not taken seriously by the Government. Here too the indigenous community are subjected to more talk and empty gestures. Of concern is that the Government has once again promised to fund and build a new primary health care centre in the inner south.

Winnunga Aboriginal Health and Community Services and Gugan Gulwan Youth Aboriginal Corporation have been waiting for far too long for this investment so that they can get on with what they do best – support the indigenous community of Canberra. This funding has been promised for too long and was part of commitments you made in 2016 – yet again the Government has failed to deliver. Again the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body has provided advice on this issue in their most recent report and are waiting to see if this funding will be forthcoming.

Critically, there is still no dedicated residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility despite repeated requests from not only the indigenous community but also health professionals and broader community stakeholders.

On this matter the Government has received numerous reports, requests and advice to this effect. In fact the most recent ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body report also provided a specific recommendation on this exact issue. This recommendation asked the ACT Government to deliver and operate the Ngunnawal Bush Healing Farm for its original purpose - a culturally appropriate, residential, drug and alcohol treatment facility. They have been very clear about the need for this facility and have asked that the Government to deliver by the end of the 2018.

Sadly based on the performance to date and, more than 10 years after the original promise was made for a dedicated residential facility – I have strong doubts about the ability of this Government to meet the health requirements of indigenous Canberrans.

Just last week the Minister for Health reported during Question Time that there has been ‘interest’ in the programs offered at Ngunnawal Bush Healing Farm but she was unable to confirm how many clients had received support through this service.

The truth is that numbers remain very low, and, only one program has been conducted to date. This can only be because the Government has built a facility that cost $11.7 million dollars - which now functions as a glorified day camp. The simple truth is - it is not fit for purpose and the indigenous community deserves better. Following years of empty promises and inadequate service delivery, isn’t it time that the Government stops talking and puts their words into action.

Public health systems are a critical component of the overall solution for indigenous Canberrans. So too are appropriate indigenous health services that are properly resourced. Given the lack of progress to date it is essential that for services provided by Winnunga Aboriginal Health and Community Services and Gugan Gulwan Youth Aboriginal Corporation be urgently resourced.

Based on the failure of the very expensive and now ineffective Ngunnawal Bush Healing Farm – it seems highly unlikely that this Government will be able to make any significant progress against the health indicators and concerns outlined by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

We hear a lot of talk in this Chamber about Closing the Gap, well how about you start by delivering what the Government has promised in the area of indigenous health.

This is just not good enough!