NACCHO Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health News: Disappointing missed opportunities in the Budget

feature tile: ATSI childcare worker with young child sitting in her lap outside in play area; text 'Disappointment as BUDGET misses opportunities to address many social and cultural determinants of health'

The image in the feature tile is from the Charles Sturt University webpage Indigenous education in Australia: connection to culture the key.

The NACCHO Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health News is platform we use to showcase the important work being done in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health focusing on the work of NACCHO, NACCHO members and NACCHO affiliates.

We also share a curated selection of news stories that are of likely interest to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector, broadly.

Disappointing missed opportunities in the Budget

Health, community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and services have welcomed significant Federal Budget measures on health and cost of living relief, but are disappointed that opportunities to address many of the social and cultural determinants of health have been missed – measures on income support and housing do not go far enough, and that public health threats such as climate change and long COVID are missing in action.

The national voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, SNAICC, said the budget was a missed opportunity to deliver funding that supports its commitments to improve life outcomes and safety for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families. SNAICC CEO Catherine Liddle welcomed commitments to make childcare cheaper for all families and support the skills and training of workers in early childhood education, but said much more needs to be done to remove the barriers facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families accessing early education and to close the gap so children can thrive. “What we’d also like to see is a renewed commitment to the National Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap priority reforms, so Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people drive some of these Budget commitments, such as the $200m to tackle community disadvantage through place-based reforms,” she said.

Dr Chris Helms, Primary Healthcare Nurse Practitioner and Adjunct Associate Professor at Charles Darwin University, said that while the budget measures were a significant step forward in addressing the barriers faced by nurse practitioners but noted that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, who choose a nurse practitioner as their health provider, are still excluded from subsidies arising from health assessments and chronic disease management items, which exemplifies systemic racism in healthcare.

You can view the Croakey Health Media articles Budget boost for healthcare welcomed but action on broader determinants needed in full here and Reactions to the Federal Budget: part two here.

AHW Dani Beezley, QLD

Dani Beezley, one of about 150 qualified Aboriginal Health Practitioners in Queensland. Photo: Erin Semmler, ABC Capricornia.

$288m for Torres and Cape emergency healthcare

Torres Strait and Northern Cape York Peninsula communities will have greater access to aeromedical emergency healthcare thanks to a $288m investment by the Palaszczuk Government. These communities are among the most remote and difficult to access in Queensland and are highly reliant on the availability and responsiveness of emergency helicopter services.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk today announced the $288m investment would boost the Queensland Ambulance Service’s capabilities to provide emergency health care to the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula region with the addition of two multi-mission Leonardo AW139 helicopters with increased speed, range and operational capability.

To view the Premier and Minister for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Hon. Annastacia Palaszczuk and Minister for Health and Ambulance Services, the Hon. Yvette D’Ath’s joint media release Health access soaring to new heights in the Torres and Cape in full click here.

Leonardo AW139 helicopter used for aeromedical retrieval

Leonardo AW139 helicopter used for aeromedical retrieval. Image source: Australian Aviation website.

Prison’s decision to take newborns off mums slammed

Two women were refused access to the Mums and Bubs unit, specially built at Darwin Correctional Centre, due to overcrowding last week. One of these women has not yet been convicted of any offense and is on remand. The unit was originally meant to house pregnant women and new mothers who could stay with their newborns for a year.

However, the facility’s 10 beds are currently being used to house other low-security inmates because of the rising number of prisoners. As a result, two women were denied the opportunity to access the facility, and one of them had her child taken away and placed with a foster family against her wishes. The other, about to give birth, has written a plea to the NT Corrections Commissioner, “I don’t want to miss the years because they are the most important years of bonding. One hour a fortnight holding my baby in the visitor center is not bonding. Please, please my life my baby’s life is in your hands.”

Olga Havnen, co-chair of the NT Aboriginal Justice Agreement, says there must be other options available, to keep the newborns and their mothers together, “I find it stunning, completely and utterly appalling. It would have to be one of the most severe forms of cruelty and inhumanity. The system cannot possibly suggest there aren’t alternatives and other options available.”

To view the National Indigenous Times article Advocate slams Darwin Prison’s decision to separate newborns from their mothers in full click here. You can also listen to an ABC radio interview with Olga Haven about the Darwin prison decision to take newborns off their mums by clicking here.

NT Aboriginal Justice Agreement co-chair Olga Havnen

NT Aboriginal Justice Agreement co-chair Olga Havnen. Photo: Peter Garnish, ABC News.

Calls for culturally safe youth justice approaches

First Nations female leaders from across Australia have demanded immediate reform to WA’s approach to youth justice in the wake of yesterday’s riots at the Banksia Hill Juvenile Detention Centre. Their call comes as the ACT introduced legislation to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years, but in a stepped approach over two years that was criticised by Change the Record and other human rights activists.

Strong calls to the WA Government for culturally safe and restorative approaches to youth justice have been made by First Nations female leaders following riots. “These children need to be cared for in a trauma informed and culturally appropriate way,” Aboriginal and Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar AO said in a joint statement with other leading First Nations women attending the Wiyi Yani U Thangani National Summit this week in Canberra. “This country needs to urgently address the crisis in youth justice to prevent further harm to children in detention, and to reduce youth offending through effective systems of support,” said Oscar. “The vast majority of young people in the youth justice system, including those involved in this morning’s events, have experienced significant trauma in their lives, which impacts on their health and wellbeing. This means that every decision made about them, and every response to their behaviour needs to be aimed toward care and rehabilitation.”

Backing the call, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA Jacqueline McGowan-Jones said restorative justice approaches, “rather than the heavy-handed approach we are seeing play out right now”, must be considered immediately. “The safety of the children is the number one priority,” she said.

To view the Croakey Health Media article Demands made for culturally safe and restorative approaches to youth justice in full click here. Below is a Paint it Blak video with Emma Garlett looking into the overrepresentation of First Nations people in prison, particularly in WA’s juvenile prison, Banksia Hill.

Police apology welcomed but concrete action needed

The Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) has welcomed Chief Commissioner of Police Shane Patton’s apology for police actions that have traumatised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples this week, but called for “concrete action to prevent continued harm at the hands of Victorian Police”. In a statement yesterday VACCHO said that while the acknowledgement of harm caused by Victorian Police is a necessary step in the process of truth-telling, it must be followed by changes in police conduct and training.

“Aboriginal Victorians still report unsafe and unwarranted interactions with law enforcement in Victoria at an alarming rate,” they said. While Aboriginal Cultural Awareness Training was made mandatory for all Victorian police in May 2022, the Yoorrook Justice Commission heard this week that only 12% of officers have completed the training as of March 2023. VACCHO said it remains concerned by the content of police training and practice, which has been found to be “culturally unsafe, lacking in transparency and accountability, and stubbornly resistant to change”.

To view the National Indigenous Times article Police apology welcome but only “concrete action” will prevent ongoing harm, VACCHO says in full click here.

Victoria Police Commissioner Shane Patton appeared before the Yoorrook truth telling commission

Victoria Police Commissioner Shane Patton appeared before the Yoorrook truth telling commission to apologise for past and current racist actions by the state’s police. Image source: SBS NITV.

Gladstone ACCHO drops to one FT locum GP

Gladstone’s only fully bulk billing health service has made the heartbreaking decision to drop to just one full time locum GP due to unsustainable costs and vastly increased demand, with more cuts possible in the future. Nhulundu Health Service, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Health Organisation, run by and for First Nations people, had previously been able to staff up to one part time and two full time equivalent GPs.

However, with increasing workforce shortages, the cost of locum GPs, and reduced funding from what was provided during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, from Monday next week the service is dropping to just one full time equivalent locum GP. CEO Matthew Cooke said there was a “GP workforce shortage crisis” across rural and regional Queensland, including Gladstone, and the service relied on locum contractor GPs, which were “very expensive, unaffordable and unsustainable”.

The service is largely funded by the Indigenous Australians’ Health Programme’s Primary Health Care funding and the Medicare Benefit Scheme, which Mr Cooke said were inadequate to cover the real costs of GP service delivery in Gladstone. “Currently, a locum GP costs the service over $12,500 per week,” he said. “Our costs skyrocketed during the peak of COVID-19 and have not reduced, in fact, they’ve increased further as the workforce shortage of GPs in rural, regional and remote areas continues to drive up costs. It is not possible even with the recent increases in the Budget this week to pay those extreme costs of these locum GPs.”

The above story was extracted from the article Gladstone’s Nhulundu Health Service drops to one full time locum GP published in The Courier Mail earlier today.

collage 3 images clockwise: Nhulundu Health Service CEO Matthew Cooke; street view of Nhulundu HS; Matthew Cooke speaking to 2 staff in Nhulundu clinic

Nhulundu Health Service (NHS) CEO Matthew Cooke; NHS, Gladstone; and NHS CEO speaking to NHS staff. Image source: The Courier Mail.

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