The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report – Australia’s Health 2014 – released this week has reinforced a key policy message: that solving problems of reliable access to good quality health care is of fundamental importance to the wellbeing of many people in remote areas of Australia.
“Labor understands this, of course, as it was a guiding principle for Labor whilst in government in recent years, and was given priority attention by us,” the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Indigenous Affairs, Warren Snowdon, said today.
“This was particularly emphasised in my area of Indigenous Health, where we were working closely with Aboriginal and Islander people on intensive programs to reduce tobacco use and to Close the Gap.”
The COAG Reform Council’s final report card on Indigenous health – Healthcare in Australia 2012-13: Comparing outcomes by Indigenous status – which was also released this week, found that a significant improvement was made in closing the gap in the number of child deaths – in fact the Indigenous rate decreased by 35% over the previous five years.
“As the COAG Reform Council has said, these results are ‘testament to the importance of governments working together to deliver real, lasting changes in our communities’,” Mr Snowdon said.
“But apart from implementing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan, what is the Abbott Government doing to continue these gains? I think these advances are at risk due to the Abbott Government’s abandonment of the National Partnership Agreements with the States and Territories.”
"We are very concerned that effective collaboration and accountability will go out the window,” Mr Snowdon said.
“Given the existing healthcare access problems for many people who live in remote areas, and especially Indigenous people who have generally poor health and low incomes, the advent of Medicare co-payments will worsen the already existing high rates of poor health amongst these populations.
“Cost is a big barrier to health access for Aboriginal Australians in the Northern Territory. Low family incomes, large families, young populations, poor education and this government’s unfair budget is making their already higher likelihood of sickness and despair even more likely into the future.
“The COAG Reform Council’s findings show that cost is already a barrier for one in eight Indigenous people seeing a GP, for one in five visiting a dentist and for one third filling a prescription. This situation will become even worse with the introduction of the GP tax.”
The COAG Reform council also says that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are three times more likely to die of an avoidable cause, meaning that three quarters of deaths of Indigenous people under 75 could have been avoided through early prevention or treatment.
“The Abbott Government’s cuts to Indigenous health, and introduction of a GP tax, make early prevention and treatment a lot less likely, and sadly it does seem that they just do not care,” Mr Snowdon said.
Australia’s most senior doctors have warned that the healthcare of Australians is too important to be treated as an ‘ideological toy’ of the Abbott Government. Labor will stand up to Tony Abbott’s health cuts and his campaign to destroy Medicare.”