House debates

Tuesday, 8 August 2023

Questions without Notice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice

2:35 pm

Photo of Gordon ReidGordon Reid (Robertson, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for Health and Aged Care. How will an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice assist future governments to develop policies to close the gap in health outcomes for First Nations people?

Photo of Mark ButlerMark Butler (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Health and Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank my friend the member for Robertson for his question. As he knows, later this year Australians will get the chance to vote to change our Constitution to recognise the place of First Nations Australians, more than 30 years after the High Court first swept aside that longstanding fiction that this was somehow vacant land when Europeans first arrived. They'll get the chance to vote, also, to give shape to that recognition through a voice to the parliament, listening to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to get better results.

I can't think of an area of policy where that voice will be more important and more valuable than in the area of health. Let's be honest, with the best of intentions and substantial investment from both sides of the parliament, the current approach simply isn't working. Year after year in this place, we hear the same reports of the yawning gap in health outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. As the minister just said, they have eight fewer years of life on this earth. Diseases are known to non-Indigenous Australians, like rheumatic heart disease, as the minister said. This disease of grinding poverty was eradicated in developed countries 50 or even 60 years ago, but it still strikes remote Aboriginal communities at rates higher than anywhere else on the planet—including sub-Saharan Africa—killing kids and creating lifelong disability, as the minister just said. Young Indigenous Australians are twice as likely to die by suicide. Later in life, Indigenous Australians are seven times as likely to die from kidney disease. The gap in cancer death rates has grown substantially.

I know that, in spite of the interjections, this isn't news to anyone in this place. We've heard report after report. I know that we all care deeply about closing the gap, but we need a new approach. We all know that a good doctor listens carefully to their patients, but, in Indigenous health, there just hasn't been enough careful deep listening. Last week, Georgia Corrie, who is a longstanding remote-area Aboriginal nurse in the Northern Territory, wrote about her work as a health professional working in Indigenous health. She said:

At times it feels as though I am walking between two different worlds that do not talk to each other, do not listen to each other. This is an opportunity to bring these worlds closer … to use this dialogue to create solutions that work for Indigenous communities.

I could not agree more. A voice to the parliament and, frankly, to the health minister, whether they're Labor or Liberal, is a chance to turn a new page in our national efforts to close the gap.