Australia’s Labor Party Commits to Closing the Indigenous Health Gap in Latest Election Campaign

By Steve Milne
Steve Milne
Steve Milne
Writer
Steve is an Australian reporter based in Sydney covering sport, the arts, and politics. He is an experienced English teacher, qualified nutritionist, sports enthusiast, and amateur musician. Contact him at steve.milne@epochtimes.com.au.
April 25, 2022 Updated: April 26, 2022

Federal Labor has said it will commit to closing the gap on Indigenous Australians’ health outcomes if elected to government on May 21.

The centre-left party announced it would train 500 additional Indigenous health workers, and invest in life-saving dialysis and rheumatic heart disease treatments for Aboriginal communities.

Federal opposition leader Anthony Albanese said in a release on April 24 that his party recognised the gap in Indigenous health outcomes could only be closed with more effort and engagement with Indigenous community-controlled health services.

“Our policies will strengthen this vital sector, supporting the development of the First Nations health workforce, creating jobs and addressing the disproportionate burden of kidney and rheumatic heart disease in First Nations communities,” he said.

Labor believes that the policy will revitalise community-controlled health services and create jobs, while the delivery of up to 30 new dialysis units would allow people living in the city or bush to access critical treatment for chronic kidney disease, meaning they no longer have to travel long distances or relocate away from family or country.

In addition, as many communities don’t have the clean water supply necessary to support dialysis, Labor has also promised to invest $15 million (US$10.8 million) to improve the water supply to remote communities. While a further $12 million will be used to combat rheumatic heart disease so fewer people would miss out on screening, treatment, and prevention programs in high-risk communities.

According to Kidney Health Australia, compared to the general population, Indigenous Australians, regardless of whether their locality is urban, regional, or rural, are five times more likely to develop kidney disease and four times more likely to die from it.

In remote areas of Australia, however, rates of kidney failure among Indigenous peoples can be up to 20 times higher than those among the non-Indigenous population.

Further, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported that between 2015 and 2019, across Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, and the Northern Territory, four out of five rheumatic heart disease diagnoses were among Indigenous Australians.

Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, said every Australian deserves the health care they need and the significant gap in health outcomes has gone on far too long.

“An Albanese Labor Government will invest in the First Nations health sector to boost the important work they are already doing to combat chronic disease and close the gap,” he said.

Meanwhile, the centre-right leaning Coalition government has made mental health a priority for Indigenous Australians with the Morrison Government announcing in August 2021 that it would invest $14.3 million in mental health support for Australians living in rural and remote communities in Western NSW and the Northern Territory.

As part of the package, the Northern Territory Primary Health Network (PHN) will receive $5.6 million to establish a new headspace service in Palmerston and provide co-designed outreach support services to the Yulara and Mutitjulu communities from the existing headspace Alice Springs service.

Additionally, the government will engage Arrernte Angankere (traditional healers) to improve equity of access for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in the region.

Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt AM MP, noted in the announcement that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are nearly twice as likely to die by suicide and Indigenous Australians are nearly three times more likely to be psychologically distressed than non-Indigenous Australians.

“These new services, including a new headspace satellite service in Palmerston, will ensure that young Indigenous Australians living in rural and remote communities can access culturally tailored mental health support when they need it,” Wyatt said.

The $14.3 million will be used to engage more mental health workers and create locally tailored and culturally safe services for young people aged 12-25 years living in rural and remote areas.

An additional, $8.7 million will be used by the Western New South Wales PHN to recruit, train, and support Aboriginal Wellbeing Workers to deliver culturally safe mental health services to young people across rural and remote communities with less than 5,000 residents.

Steve Milne
Steve is an Australian reporter based in Sydney covering sport, the arts, and politics. He is an experienced English teacher, qualified nutritionist, sports enthusiast, and amateur musician. Contact him at steve.milne@epochtimes.com.au.