WA’s peak Aboriginal health group says almost 100 services and more than 300 jobs are under threat because the State Government is dragging its feet to sign up to a new $150 million funding agreement.
Cathy O’Leary, Medical Editor, The West Australian
The Aboriginal Health Council of WA, which oversees the Aboriginal Medical Service, wants the Government to commit in writing to the next four-year Council of Australian Governments funding agreement for Closing the Gap in Aboriginal Health Outcomes before it goes into caretaker mode.
Chairwoman Vicki O’Donnell said the current funding ended in June, and the May Budget was too late to find out how much would be provided in the future, particularly for staff who did not know if there would be cutbacks and whether they would still have a job.
Health Minister Kim Hames said the Liberal-Nationals Government had given $117.4 million in 2009 towards closing the gap in Aboriginal health. Dr Hames said future funding for the program would be considered as part of the Budget process.
“The significant improvements we’ve made to date to the health outcomes of Aboriginal people in WA now face an uncertain future due to the lack of clarity over the program’s ongoing funding,” Mrs O’Donnell said.
“Since the four-year COAG funding agreement commenced, we have seen healthcare services delivered to both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in rural, remote and metropolitan regions we’ve never been able to reach before.”
Mrs O’Donnell said the national partnership agreement had helped set up and expand 98 Statewide services, including 23 programs addressing chronic disease and specialist mental health services.
“Without the Government’s continued support and its investment in the health … of Aboriginal people in this State, 98 critical health services will cease and over 300 jobs will be lost in the workforce, 70 per cent of which are held by Aboriginal people,” she said.
“Not having made a commitment at this late stage to continuing this approach and renewing the COAG funding agreement is bordering on recklessness. The situation is critical.”