Report of the 6th National Conference

Plenary Session Led By Merle O’donnell

Page last updated: 07 July 2008

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“I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners, the Irukandjii people and their Elders who are in the room and our past Elders as well. Here is a quick summary of the last few days. What we have seen over the last few days has been good. There is a lot of hard work going on in the communities, and I am sure we can take back to our own communities some of those practices. Out of those presentations there have been a lot of key messages including our keynote speakers, such as Mr Calma.

Some of the keynote messages are partnerships, trust, respect, engagement, real community consultation and community capacity- building. Overarching these is a message to build relationships that are genuine and meaningful - not gammon relationships like over the last 200 years or more. We need to have a genuine and meaningful relationship with the federal, state and local governments, as they are the ones who don't understand us and they need to take on board our messages and listen to us - such as Tom Calma’s message regarding the Tiwi Islands experience.

Policies - We need to make sure that decision-makers in policies include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander EH points of view. My personal experience has been that EH has been a second cousin to the clinical profession, but I am pleased to say it has been Culture - We have links to land and sea and we must not lose sight of that, but we also need to remind decision-makers of these links to the land and sea.

Make sure programs are sustainable and that our communities need to be sustainable – that they have the control.

Funding - We need to have a commitment from funding bodies to continue with programs. It’s all very well that local government intends to amalgamate shires and communities, but our communities aren’t rate-based, and we need to make sure this is recognised and that it does not reduce our funding.

Committees - We need to make sure our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people sit on national committees where we can make a difference, ensuring messages go up at a national level.

Stephen Canendo’s Keynote Address – ‘one plus one makes whatever’ – the more ‘ones’ you put together the easier it will be to solve environmental issues, eg, one person can pick a table up, but if four people get on each side of the table, they can pick the table up together. Therefore, let’s all pick up our wishes together. The other thing that struck me was Stephen’s message of dedication, enthusiasm, adaptability, durability, love and yearning (‘deadly’), and how it ties into our job, our community and our families.

We are going to now talk about suggested statements from the suggestion box. If there is a recommendation or suggestion you would like to discuss, don’t be shamed. Please get up and let us know what you meant. The conference organising group will work on them and put them into a framework where relevant to each state jurisdiction to action. There are no guarantees, as some may take time. However, with the National Working group of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders they will make sure they will be addressed in one form or another”.

Suggestions Box – Government Related:

  • Bind the Crown under the Act, making them accountable to Indigenous communities.
  • The Government has a responsibility for both State and Federal.
  • Lack of services (what is surplus doing in Government coffers)?
  • Fundamental rights - Aboriginal people still don’t trust the Government.
  • Promote Policies - The advancement of ‘Truth in Implementation’.
  • Currently a CHIP review by the Canberra ICC, within the section called municipal services, can there be a recommendation that this funding be targeted towards Indigenous community councils for EH Services such as dog health and pest control. Funding diminishes as it passes through Government.
  • More visits from the Queensland Health coordinators.
  • Information gathering for application/registration of guidelines through the local law model.
  • WA should have funding for an EHW in each community similar to Queensland.
  • Developing a tri-state system in central Australia for an EHW/EH Service System managed locally.
  • Issues exist with cross border training and work/expertise/funding.
  • This ‘region’ would best be managed by a tri-state approach.
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Suggestions Box – General:

  • Place a skilled Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander negotiator in every community across Australia.
  • Refresher training for NPA EHW’s on water testing.
  • Animal Management Program to include Microchip, Dog Registration Form and Carcass disposal (policies).

Suggestions Box – Conference Delegate Suggestions and Statements:

  • That a publication be produced that documents case studies of environmental health interventions in Indigenous communities which highlights successes/failures and lessons learnt
  • That more health economic analysis be undertaken of the above cases to build the evidence base.
  • That consideration be given to extending the hand washing project to include face washing and ear cleaning. That the project be implemented within Indigenous schools, and that it be evaluated after three years.
  • Develop a database of experts in different areas such as effluent disposal, so that practitioners can access their knowledge and advice.
  • That WGATSIEH and enHealth co-sponsor the development of the “Conducting Dog Health Programs” for EHWs publication with AMRRIC.
  • It would be nice to have PowerPoint presentations and outcomes sent to us. The focus of this conference seems to have been mainly on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in discrete communities. The majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people do not live in discrete communities, and the majority live in urban areas. The five-year plan should recognise and reflect this.
  • Rather than spend each day of the workshop on presentations, it would be good if the last part included interactive workshops which could discuss the great ideas heard in the presentations, and consider lessons learnt, information worth sharing, and possibilities for National policy, etc.
  • It would be good to have a summary of the talks given by the keynote speakers in the program.
  • Policy frameworks in Western Australia - some areas have already been talked about that fall through the gaps such as community food stores not funded by housing authority and no specified funding body. Government to take responsibility to fund food stores in communities without that type of funding.
  • Development of clear national standards by WGATSIEH through enHealth with the National Water Commission for public EH in all new water and sewerage infrastructure, and advocate for development of a mechanism for maintenance funds not just for housing, but also for water and sewerage".
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