Thursday, 11 February 2010
Questions without Notice
Closing the Gap
I thank the member for Leichhardt for his question. He is someone with a keen interest in and knowledge of the issues to do with closing the gap in life expectancy for Indigenous Australians. This afternoon the Prime Minister delivered the second report, Closing the gap on Indigenous disadvantage. It was a very important occasion—a milestone in establishing where we are now and laying down markers for the future. As the Prime Minister made very clear, we are not standing still.
Despite the comments from the Leader of the Opposition in his contribution, we are taking action. This is demonstrated by the 57 per cent increase in funding for Indigenous health since the Rudd government came to office. Australian governments have committed $1.6 billion through COAG towards closing the gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. As part of that package, $805.5 million—the Commonwealth contribution—is to address chronic disease within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
I just want to make this observation; it is very important that it is understood. Chronic disease—such things as type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and lung cancer—accounts for two-thirds of premature deaths amongst Indigenous Australians. The Indigenous Chronic Disease Package will improve the prevention, early detection and ongoing management of these diseases.
In addition, through the COAG early childhood development agreement, the government is committed, as the Prime Minister reminded us this afternoon, to halving the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous children under five within a decade. As the Prime Minister reminded us, Indigenous kids are twice as likely to die before the age of five as other Australian children. That, of course, is a tragedy—one I am only too well aware of because of the large Indigenous population in my electorate. I know the member for Leichhardt is aware of this detail from his work in his electorate. A significant contributor to this appalling situation is the prevalence of underweight babies, who are at greater risk of dying during the first year of life and are prone to ill health in childhood. It is our responsibility to support Indigenous babies and their mothers and ensure that they have the best possible care throughout the pregnancy and the first crucial years of life.
Along with Minister Macklin, this morning I visited the Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service here in Canberra, where we were able to announce the funding of 10 new mothers and babies services across the country under the New Directions program. As the Prime Minister said in his Close the Gap speech, under the $90.3 million mothers and babies services program a total of 11,000 mothers and babies will be supported over five years with services including improved antenatal and postnatal care, advice on nutrition and health checks. This adds to the 43 Indigenous child and maternity services already in place.
It is very, very important that we understand that, despite the rhetoric that came from the Leader of the Opposition in his response to the Prime Minister’s speech, we are deadly serious about addressing issues to do with closing the gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Far from just being a matter of words, as it was described by the Leader of the Opposition, we are delivering not on words but on taking action—definitive action which is there for all to see. I say to members of the chamber and, indeed, people who might be listening to this discussion: take a look at the Prime Minister’s speech this morning to understand precisely what the government is doing to close the gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.