Senate debates

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Indigenous Affairs, Indigenous Health, Budget

3:19 pm

Photo of Jan McLucasJan McLucas (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Mental Health) Share this | Hansard source

I also refer to the foetal alcohol spectrum disorder discussion that we have had both yesterday and today. I have to say that Senator Fierravanti-Wells standing up and restating the comments made by Senator Nash does not make them true. The truth is that the public release of the 2013 election commitment costing says very plainly that $20.2 million has been allocated by the former Labor government in order to address this—I think we are all in agreement—very serious issue. Standing up and restating it is not going to make it right. What Senator Nash announced in response to a dorothy dixer in question time yesterday is more than a 50 per cent cut in this program. There is nothing more plain than that. To restate it, I am sorry, is not going to make it right.

Let me move to the answers given by Senator Scullion today. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are being left in limbo. During the election campaign, the Prime Minister said he was going to be the Prime Minister of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Great expectations were raised. People were thinking, 'It's going to be different.' What we have seen since this budget came down, with a cut of half a billion dollars—$500 million—from Aboriginal programs and services, is nothing short of disgraceful. These are the people in our community who need the best thinking, the most work and, frankly, the most funding. I do not disagree that we need to do it in the best possible way, but you do not start the work by cutting out half a billion dollars worth of services.

We have asked questions at Senate estimates about where these cuts will fall. We have received very little information. Senator Fierravanti-Wells talked about how we need to streamline things and I do not disagree with that, but do not start by cutting and then work out what you might do later. Senator Fierravanti-Wells said that we have moved eight departments into one; that is not actually true. At estimates we would ask a question of Health and be told, 'No, that's Prime Minister and Cabinet.' Then we would go to Prime Minister and Cabinet and be told, 'No, you should have asked that in Health.' Then we find out today, when we talked about the Deadly Choices program: 'It's not in my portfolio.' So this idea that 'We're going to streamline everything into one place' is simply hollow words. That is not what has happened. We still have the same problem of tracking where funding is going, not just asking the senators. More importantly, the people who are actually trying to deliver the service cannot work out what is happening. So why is it surprising that we come into this place, two weeks away from the end of the financial year, with specific requests for information because people are concerned about what will happen in not even two weeks time. These programs are potentially being finalised. These people who are delivering these programs need to know what is happening.

Senator Scullion himself said with respect to the Indigenous Women's Legal Program, 'It's a bit confusing.' It is a bit confusing, Senator Scullion, and, if it is confusing to you, it might be confusing to me. But what about the people who are running the program? What about the Aboriginal women who might want to get a legal service on 1 July? Is that pretty confusing to them? Do we get a service? Can we fund this service? Does it fit within these parameters? Who knows what is going to happen? You cannot leave people hanging out like this. But with the machinery-of-government changes that, I am afraid, is what it has resulted in for the most vulnerable people in our community. It is simply not fair and should not happen.

As I have said, we have had half a billion dollars cut out of Indigenous programs. But let us also go to the other cuts in this cruel budget that will affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The one that I have been talking about since the budget is the $7 GP tax. Who will that hit? I have been saying it will hit the sick and the poor, including sick and poor Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We have had no clarity. What will happen with Aboriginal medical services? We just do not know. And, if we do not know, then AMSs do not know, either.

How is the $7 GP tax going to work in an Aboriginal medical service? I will tell you what will happen. They will have to charge it and, if they don't, they lose their bulk-billing incentive. Senator Nash says over and over again— (Time expired)


No comments