Senate debates

Tuesday, 28 February 2006


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner

6:52 pm

Photo of Trish CrossinTrish Crossin (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

There is always one point in the year that is a watershed for people interested in Indigenous issues in this country. That is, of course, the annual tabling of the report from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner. That report was tabled a number of weeks ago and is now formally being presented to the Senate. Those people who have an interest in Indigenous affairs, including people in the Public Service, politicians and academics, really value the work that is put into this document by Tom Calma, the Social Justice Commissioner, and his team at the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. I think the document this year is one of the most outstanding contributions that Tom Calma and HREOC have made to the issues confronting Indigenous Australians at this time. It is extremely comprehensive and extremely well researched and presented.

This year it goes to two main issues facing Indigenous Australians. It goes to their health status and it makes substantial comment about the new arrangements Indigenous Australians have faced since the demise of ATSIC and the introduction of the new whole-of-government idea of shared responsibility agreements. The commissioner makes a number of interesting but very profound statements. In talking about the health of Indigenous nations, he says:

... we must remember that we are a wealthy nation. It is not credible to suggest that one of the wealthiest nations in the world cannot solve a health crisis affecting less than 3% of its citizens. Research suggests that addressing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health inequality will involve no more than a 1% per annum increase in total health expenditure in Australia over the next ten years. If this funding is committed, then the expenditure required is then likely to decline thereafter.

How salient a point is that? We are one of the wealthiest nations in this world and yet the health of our Indigenous people is significantly poor, and the outcomes have not improved in decades. The Social Justice Commissioner outlines a 25-year plan to address the health of our Indigenous Australians. I sincerely hope that this government looks at this report and puts some long and hard thought into the credibility of adopting such a plan.

The commissioner raises a number of issues in relation to the three main failings in the approach of Australian governments to date. He does label state and territory governments in this, but of course we know that additional money is spent by the federal government in Indigenous health. I think is fair to say that there ought to be a 20- to 30-year vision for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia. The framework in this report sets that out, and it at least provides some sort of answer and some kind of guidance as to ways in which we might tackle this problem in this country.

In the second part of the report he makes substantial comment about the new introduction of shared responsibility agreements. He highlights the problems with the coordination, effectiveness of service delivery and the introduction of SRAs. I think his comments are extremely accurate. There are no suitable benchmarks in the introduction of SRAs, no rigorous time lines are put in place to meet improved health standards, there is a substantial lack of investment in a coordinated national strategy and there is certainly a lack of practical and adequately financed programs. This report is well worth a read. It makes a number of very critical comments about the inadequacies of shared responsibility agreements and outlines some major concerns about how they are not addressing the human rights needs and the emotional and social needs of Indigenous Australians. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.