Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health

The 2006-07 Budget provides an additional $136.7 million to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to better health.

Page last updated: 09 May 2006

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9 May 2006

Improving the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continues to be one of the most important and challenging issues confronting Australia.

Despite unprecedented funding over the past ten years, access to health care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is still variable.

The 2006-07 Budget provides an additional $136.7 million to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to better health.

The Government is tackling the scourge of petrol sniffing by committing further funding to the whole-of-government approach announced in September 2005.

It will also deliver specialised training for health workers in Indigenous communities to ensure that people with mental health problems receive early help and treatment before their symptoms worsen and become more difficult to treat. This initiative forms part of the Government’s recently announced package to provide better mental health services for Australia.

The Government is funding more doctors and health workers, including Aboriginal Health Workers, to provide more health services to Indigenous communities.

Reducing substance abuse (petrol sniffing)

The Government will spend a further $55.2 million over four years to reduce the incidence and impact of substance abuse in remote Indigenous communities.

It will involve prevention, early intervention and treatment. In particular, drug traffickers will be targeted and removed from Indigenous communities. Communities will be supported to take a zero tolerance approach to substance abuse. Prevention will include an expanded rollout of Opal non-sniffable fuel. Chronic petrol sniffers will be provided with access to treatment facilities.

This proposal aims to eliminate the supply of sniffable petrol while at the same time giving individuals, families and communities more support to regain control over the problem of petrol sniffing.

Some remote Indigenous communities are not sufficiently cohesive to tackle substance abuse issues without support. The Commonwealth will work with state and territory governments and Indigenous communities through shared responsibility agreements.

The $55.2 million funding is in addition to the Government’s September 2005 commitment of $9.5 million over two years to make non-sniffable petrol available for the central desert region, the 2005-06 Budget allocations of $9.6 million over four years for combating petrol sniffing and the $8 million over four years to help Indigenous communities to deal with alcohol and drug abuse.

Improving the capacity of workers in Indigenous communities

In a dedicated effort to support the primary care system in the detection, early intervention and effective management of people with mental illness and associated substance abuse issues, the Government has committed $20.8 million over five years to training Indigenous workers in recognising early signs of illness in community members, including people who also have drug and alcohol problems, and identifying appropriate pathways for treatment and care.

This is part of the Government’s contribution to the COAG Mental Health package, as announced on 5 April 2006.

A more highly skilled workforce will help prevent further complication of symptoms that may occur when illness is not promptly treated, including self-medication with drugs or alcohol.

Improving Indigenous access to health care services

The Government is providing $39.5 million over four years to establish five new health brokerage services in regional and urban areas to serve as entry points into the wider health system for Indigenous Australians. Up to 40 additional GPs, nurses and other health professionals will be provided for Indigenous-specific health services in rural and remote areas.

The brokerage services will enlist, train and register GPs and allied health professionals who are interested in providing culturally and clinically appropriate care to Indigenous people. These services aim to better link Indigenous Australians with mainstream health services. The five services will link up to 15,000 Indigenous people to GPs and other health professionals in urban and regional areas in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and Western Australia.

Up to 40 more GPs and/or other allied health professionals will be recruited to rural and remote areas, where access to mainstream primary health care is poor and where doctors and other health professionals have traditionally not set up private practice.

Over the past ten years, the Commonwealth Government has substantially increased the coverage and capacity of Indigenous-specific health services across Australia in urban, rural and remote areas. In that time, funding for Indigenous health has increased by almost $240 million, a real increase of 144 per cent.

Improving Indigenous health worker employment

A $20.5 million, four-year package will provide full wages for 130 Indigenous Australians working in community-based Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health care and substance abuse services. Currently staff in these positions perform basic health worker and associated duties and are paid under the Community Development Employment Programme. In some cases it is estimated that the average salary of these workers could more than double, with increases of up to $15,000 a year. The measure will assist Indigenous health services to attract and retain Indigenous staff and help develop career pathways in the health workforce.

Additional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander aged care places

A further 150 aged care places have been designated for use by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people under the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Aged Care Strategy over the next four years.

The need for aged care services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is growing in line with the ageing of the broader population.

Media contact:Kate Miranda 0417 425 227

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