NACCHO political news:Report finds need for more effective leadership across government to tackle critical issues in Aboriginal affairs


Rob Oakey

Committee chair Rob Oakeshott MP said the need for more effective leadership across government to tackle critical issues in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs was clear.

A parliamentary committee has recommended a high level review of leadership in Indigenous Affairs

The report, by parliament’s joint Public Accounts and Audit Committee, supports recommendations from the Auditor-General for a ‘refresh’ of the lead agency role for Indigenous affairs, and calls for particular attention to be given to strengthening the authority of the agency to better drive changes across government departments.


Committee chair Rob Oakeshott MP said the need for more effective leadership across government to tackle critical issues in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs was clear.

“The Government needs a lead agency with authority and a clear mandate to oversee expenditure, monitor outcomes, define priorities and drive actions at whole-of-government level,” Mr Oakeshott said.

“We live in a time where the want to reconcile is high”, he added. “FaHCSIA has made commendable progress in improving coordination between government agencies, but the committee was not convinced that the current arrangements provide FaHCSIA with the authority needed to drive outcomes as effectively as possible.”

The committee’s report also recommended:

  • the development of an explicit whole-of-government strategy for capacity development —both within government and for not-for-profit Indigenous organisations;
  • improvements to the availability of location-based data on Indigenous expenditure and outcomes;
  • an update to be provided on efforts to measure outcomes in ‘priority’ remote service delivery communities; and
  • options to be examined for improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation and involvement in decision-making processes.

The committee came to its conclusions upon reviewing three reports published by the Auditor-General in 2012 focusing on government coordination arrangements for Indigenous programs.

The committee held three public hearings related to its review of the reports, and received written submissions from the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples and the Social Justice Commissioner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs.

An electronic copy of the report can be downloaded

For media comment: please contact Committee Chair, Rob Oakeshott MP, on
(02) 6584 2911.

 For information about the report:

please contact the committee secretariat by telephone (02) 6277 4615, e-mail,

NACCHO health news:Healing the Fault Lines: uniting politicians, bureaucrats and NGOs for improved outcomes in Aboriginal Health.


Prominent Aboriginal Territorian and the current CEO of Danila Dilba Health Service Olga Havnen argues that the “fault lines” between politicians, bureaucrats and NGOs and the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health sector must unite to make a real difference.

A little known positive aspect of the Northern Territory Intervention was a significant increase in resources to Aboriginal Comprehensive Primary Health Care.

This, along with parallel initiatives under Closing the Gap, gave some hope that the decades long demands from our sector for substantial extra resources in primary health care was at last being heard.

However, while we have been making some advances in the Northern Territory, we face the potential for a “race to the bottom” in Aboriginal health where the interests of politicians, bureaucrats and NGOs potentially outweigh the evidence of Aboriginal community control.

 Prominent Aboriginal Territorian and the current CEO of Danila Dilba Health Service Olga Havnen argues that the “fault lines” between these groups and the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health sector must unite to make a real difference.

Extract from the 16 pages speech which can now be download from NACCHO

I am currently the CEO of Danila Dilba Health Service in Darwin, which has not long ago celebrated its 20th anniversary. We are an Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service—and part of a broader, national movement of community controlled comprehensive primary health care that has its origins in Redfern some 42 years ago.

At the core of what we have achieved over those many years has been an aggressive approach to basing our work on evidence. Our accumulated achievements have always been based on what works—in clinical as well as social practice.

At the heart of what we have strived to achieve is the development of a practice—both clinical and social—that displays our strong and central commitment to comprehensive primary health care.

This model was codified at an international level at Alma Ata in 1978, and subsequently endorsed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations:

Primary health care is essential health care based on practical, scientifically sound and socially acceptable methods and technology made universally accessible to individuals and families in the community through their full participation and at a cost that the community and country can afford to maintain at every stage of their development in the spirit of self-reliance and self-determination.

Primary health care is socially and culturally appropriate, universally accessible, scientifically sound, first level care.

You can download  Olga Havnen full speech 16 pages here

PRESS Coverage below and picture from the Australian May 29

REMOTE indigenous communities are suffering from a government culture of “risk intolerance” which has diverted funding from community-led organisations, a leading Aboriginal figure has said.

Olga Havnen, the Northern Territory’s former co-ordinator general for remote services, last night attacked successive governments for choosing large non-government organisations for service delivery ahead of smaller indigenous-led organisations.

Ms Havnen said many community-led service delivery organisations had “disappeared” since the Northern Territory Emergency Response in 2007.

“Aboriginal control of service delivery in many areas has withered on the vine,” she said in the Lowitja O’Donoghue Oration at the University of Adelaide.

“Despite jurisdictional, national and international evidence that community control over service delivery achieves better results, with control being a key element in the social determinants of health, for example, we have gone backwards.”

 Ms Havnen, whose position in the Territory was abolished by the new Country Liberal Party government in October, said there had been a “massive expansion” of NGO involvement in service delivery with “many millions of dollars” flowing to non-indigenous NGOs and multinational NGOs, regardless of their effectiveness.

She said in the past decade, only one new community controlled health service had been established in the Territory and only two remote health clinics handed across to community control.

“It is a process which has allowed government agencies to quarantine themselves from what they too often ascribe as risk in funding Aboriginal organisations,” she said.

“By this I mean that nothing is done, or can be done, that might in any way shape or form come back to haunt politicians or bureaucrats at a Senate estimates hearing or their state and territory equivalents.”

Ms Havnen, who is now chief executive of the Danila Dilba Health Service in Darwin, an Aboriginal community controlled health service, said that there needed to be a fundamental change in the relationship between Aboriginal service delivery in the Territory and elsewhere, and politicians, bureaucrats and NGOs who were involved in the process.

“The politicians and public servants can be agents of innovation and change if they abandon risk intolerance,” she said.

“Similarly, the response of NGOs to the last decade or so of reaping the benefits of government funding into Aboriginal service delivery must also change.

“Risk intolerance cannot be part of Closing the Gap.”

Ms Havnen said she remained concerned about many elements of the 2007 intervention into Northern Territory communities, which would continue to have a psychological impact “for many years”.

NACCHO social policy news:Indigenous Australians a quarter of Australia’s prisoner population. It’s a social policy disaster.But could there be solution!


Firstly though, politicians and the public alike need to understand and admit that the current policy ethos, and its reliance of incarceration, is a failure, both socially and economically.

Australia spends $2.6 billion a year incarcerating adults

But could there  be  solution!

We invite our members to make comment see below

Reproduced from the DRUM : Paul Simpson and Michael Doyle

The continual rise in incarceration rates of Indigenous Australians represents nothing short of social policy disaster.


If reducing the numbers of those in prison is to be achieved, then we need to end the reliance on incarceration and invest more into new thinking and rigorous research on non-incarceration alternatives.

Marking 20 years of monitoring since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the Australian Institute of Criminology finally released its ‘deaths in custody‘ report last Friday and the figures reaffirm the increasing over-representation of Indigenous persons in custody.

In 20 years rates have gone from one Indigenous person in seven incarcerated to one in four.

Indigenous persons make up 26 per cent of the prisoner population yet only constitute 2.5 per cent of the Australian population.

The over-representation of Indigenous persons in Western Australian prisons is the highest of any Indigenous group in the OECD.

Addressing Indigenous over-representation in custody requires new thinking and tested approaches to the offender population.

Firstly though, politicians and the public alike need to understand and admit that the current policy ethos, and its reliance of incarceration, is a failure, both socially and economically.

Australia spends $2.6 billion a year incarcerating adults. Punitive penal policies cost Australia big time.


While happy to scrutinise the effectiveness and efficiencies of all other sectors and services, political authorities seem quite content to overlook the billions poured into the prison system.

The return on this ‘investment’ amounts to very little. It simply does not prevent re-offending.

Longitudinal studies show that two-in-five people are re-imprisoned within two-to-five years of release.

Those who advocate for new thinking beyond the current social policy failures have hailed Justice Reinvestment (JR) as one new approach.

Justice Reinvestment was introduced to the US in 2003 by the Open Society Institute and has subsequently been adopted in eleven US states.

It involves identifying geographic areas from where significant numbers of the incarcerated population emanate and investing in services in these areas.

Importantly, at the policy level JR aims to divert funds that would be spent on criminal justice matters (primarily incarceration) back into local communities to fund services that are said to address the underlying causes of crime, thus preventing people from engaging with the criminal justice system.

Detention under this model is seen as a last resort – for only the most dangerous and serious offenders.

The goal is to shift the culture away from imprisonment and to restoration within the community through restorative health, social welfare services, education-employment programs and programs to prevent offending.

The effectiveness of JR was reported on at the First National Summit on JR in Washington in 2010, where lawmakers from several American states discussed how they had enacted policies to avert projected prison growth, saving several hundred million dollars, while decreasing prisoner numbers and recidivism rates.

Australian scholars have reservations about the type of JR model adopted in some US states, specifically querying who controls and receives the funding. Is it the community-sector or another state agency?

Former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Dr Tom Calma commended JR as a possible solution to Indigenous over-representation in Australia’s criminal justice system. Several other Australian commentators have followed suit.

Despite the increasing popularity of JR, Australia so far lacks evidence to support it beyond its appealing rhetoric and, some might argue, simplistic notion as a viable policy alternative.

Members of the Indigenous Offender Health Research Capacity Building Group (IOHR-CBG) and the Australian Justice Reinvestment Project based at the University of NSW have begun research efforts to address this paucity of information, .

Following two national Justice Reinvestment forums convened by IOHR-CBG member Dr Jill Guthrie, a three-year JR research project has begun at National Centre for Indigenous Studies.

Using a case study approach, the research explores the conditions, governance and cultural appropriateness of reinvesting resources otherwise spent on incarceration, into services to enhance juvenile offenders’ ability to remain in their community.

The Australian Justice Reinvestment Project is currently is examining JR models from overseas in order to provide a sound theoretical and practical foundation for the future development of JR strategies in Australia.\

There is also a Citizens’ Jury research project being run this year by IOHR-CBG researchers aimed at eliciting the values and priorities of a critically informed Australian community with respect to JR.

Citizens’ Juries have been used in various policy fields internationally, including in health in Australia. They involve bringing together group of randomly selected citizens, giving them a variety of evidence-based information on the issues to hand and asking them, as representatives of the community, about their preferences for certain policy options or priorities for resource allocation.

The project also assesses how the results of the Citizens’ Juries might influence the decision making of government policy makers.

Research of this nature is critical in order to imagine and test new and viable alternatives to incarceration. Unfortunately, the current amount invested in such research is minute.

As the recently-emerged adage says, a ‘tough on crime’ approach needs to be replaced by a ‘smart on crime’ approach. A new policy platform to justice is well overdue.

This platform must be informed by evidence and not the tired political populism that exploits the fears of the electorate if we are to ever make inroads in reducing the hugely disproportionate Indigenous incarceration rate in Australia.

Paul Simpson and Michael Doyle are research fellows with the Justice Health Research Program at the Kirby Institute, University of NSW, and are also members of the Indigenous Offender Health Research Capacity Building Group.

NACCHO AFL health news:NACCHO and Federal Government kicking goals for Aboriginal youth


NACCHO is proud to partner with the AFL and Greater Western Sydney (GWS) to develop Australia’s next generation of Aboriginal leaders and footballers

Picture above NACCHO chair Justin Mohamed with AFL legend,GWS coach  and NACCHO Aboriginal Health supporter Kevin Sheedy’ half time at the GWS VS West Coast Eagles game sponsored by NACCHO


Pictures below NACCHO promotion at GWS VS West Coast Eagles Game




Gillard Labor Government Press Release

The Gillard Labor Government is investing nearly $1.3 million to continue supporting the next generation of Indigenous leaders, in partnership with the Australian Football League (AFL). 

 As footy fans aatended  the annual Dreamtime game at the MCG tonight, the Government was pleased to announce its continued investment in youth programs run by the AFL and the Richmond Football Club, which are helping young Indigenous Australians gain new skills and become role models for others.

 The Long Walk and Dreamtime at the G are nationally celebrated events that recognise the important contribution that Indigenous people make to our country, both on and off the field.

 The Government is also supporting the Long Walk – which is led every year by Michael Long to raise awareness of Indigenous issues – with a $30,000 grant to support the organisation.

 The Gillard Government is proud to partner with the AFL to develop Australia’s next generation of Indigenous leaders.

 Supporting the Richmond Football Club’s Korin Gamadji Institute

The Government will provide more than $970,000 over the next three years to the Richmond Football Club’s Korin Gamadji Institute to continue the successful Richmond Emerging Aboriginal Leaders (REAL) program.

 The REAL program provides leadership and mentoring opportunities for Indigenous students from across the country aged 13 to 16 years, giving them new vocational skills and setting them up for successful careers.

 A key part of the program includes camps held over four days each year in Melbourne and Alice Springs, which build student’s leadership skills, self-esteem and cultural connections, so they can be young leaders in the own communities.

Students also benefit from direct mentoring from Richmond footballers, including Shane Edwards and Steven Morris.

This new funding builds on the $6.75 million the Australian Government has previously invested to launch the REAL program in 2012.

Since the initiative began, more than 180 Indigenous students have benefited from the REAL leadership camps and ongoing mentoring programs.

Students have had successful work experience placements at a number of different employers, and have taken part in the Koori Youth Council and the National Indigenous Youth Leadership Academy.

Helping to build young Indigenous leaders is a critical part of closing the gap on Indigenous disadvantage.

The Richmond Football Club and the Korin Gamadji Institute are doing fantastic work to make sure young Indigenous people from across Australia are on the right track to succeed as adults and become role models for other young people.

Supporting the AFL’s Club Partnership Program

The Gillard Government will continue to support the AFL’s Club Partnership Program, with a further $300,000 in funding for 2013.

Under the Club Partnership Program, six AFL clubs work with Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory and South Australia to help young people stay connected to school and reduce the risk of truancy, violence and substance abuse.

The clubs – Richmond, Essendon, Geelong, Hawthorn, Adelaide and Port Adelaide – organise player visits to their partner communities at least twice a year to work with young Indigenous people and maintain contact with them throughout the year. 

The Australian Government has invested more than $1.4 million in the program since 2007, benefitting young people in remote Indigenous communities including Tiwi Islands, Wadeye, Groote Eylandt and communities in the APY Lands.

This new funding will build on the success of the current program and expand to work with young Indigenous women across the country through the AFL Female Kickstart program.


NACCHO partners AFL Indigenous round and GWS to promote Aboriginal health and Close the Gap :Video welcome from Kevin Sheedy


Above advertisement that will feature in the AFL RECORD

View video NACCHO intro from Kevin Sheedy

The Greater Western Sydney GIANTS are pleased to welcome the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) as the match day partner for AFL Indigenous Round.

NACCHO will partner the GIANTS for their clash against the West Coast Eagles at ŠKODA Stadium at Sydney Olympic Park this Saturday.

John Singer,Director of the Nganampa Health Council ,board member of NACCHO, Chair of  Aboriginal Health Council of SA Inc.  has been asked to toss the coin  at the start of the televised game

NACCHO Chair Justin Mohamed welcomed the opportunity to support the GIANTS to mark AFL Indigenous Round in Western Sydney.

“Working with the AFL and the GIANTS is a great way to spread the Aboriginal health message to communities across Australia, from Liverpool in Sydney’s west, to remote communities in Northern and Western Australia and all places in between,” said Mr Mohamed.

“NACCHO is very pleased to support the AFL Indigenous Round and hope it will help highlight the health needs of Aboriginal people who are still likely to die up to seventeen years before non-Aboriginal people.

“Aboriginal health organisations who are run by Aboriginal people within their own communities are having a great impact to Close the Gap and improving the lives of our people,” he said.

GIANTS Head Coach Kevin Sheedy, a long-time supporter of Indigenous Australia and who helped pioneer Dreamtime at the `G, welcomed the partnership with NACCHO.

“Earlier this year I was lucky enough to travel to Elcho Island in the Northern Territory and visit the Galiwin’ku community where Australian football is a big part of their lives,” Sheedy said.

View video Kevin Sheedy trip to Elcho Island

“I congratulate the AFL on what they have done to build Indigenous Round and we are delighted that NACCHO are supporting the GIANTS to help raise awareness of this important issue in Indigenous Australia.”

The GIANTS are also pleased to announce the Steve Waugh Foundation as this week’s community partner.

The Steve Waugh Foundation is committed to a coordinated approach to the service, identification, treatment and research of rare diseases to improve the quality of life of children affected by rare diseases (0 – 25 years of age).

The Ambassador for the match will be Renee Eliades, who has geleophysic dysplasia, a form of dwarfism that affects one in a million people.

Renee will celebrate her 21st Birthday at ŠKODA Stadium with thousands of GIANTS fans. Former Australian cricket captain Steve Waugh will also attend the match as a guest of the GIANTS.

NACCHO health alert:Community solutions must be centre of strategy to address terrible Aboriginal suicide rates


A Federal Government strategy to address high suicide rates among Aboriginal people, particularly the younger generations, is a welcome step towards addressing the crisis in our communities, the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) said today.

READ previous NACCHO articles on suicide prevention here

 Federal Mental Health Minister Mark Butler today revealed the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Strategy which aims to address Aboriginal suicide rates – which are as high as one a month is some remote Aboriginal communities.

 NACCHO Chair Justin Mohamed said the Federal Government’s focus on the issue, particularly the emphasis on local solutions and capacity building, is welcomed, however he said the detail of the plan still needs careful examination.

 “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience suicide at around twice the rate of the rest of the population. Aboriginal teenage men and women are up to 5.9 times more likely to take their own lives than non-Aboriginal people,” Mr Mohamed said.

 “This is a crisis affecting our young people. It’s critical real action is taken to urgently to address the issue and it’s heartening to see the Federal Government taking steps to do that.”

 However Mr Mohamed said that for any strategy to be effective, local, community-led healthcare needed to be at its core.

 “Historically, Aboriginal people have not had great experiences with the mental health system, so breaking down the barriers and building trust is going to be key and having Aboriginal people involved in the delivery of services is critical.

 “Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations are already having the biggest impacts on holistic improvements in Aboriginal health, including mental health. We are already a trusted source of primary health care within our communities, so its important those centres play a pivotal role in any strategy.

 “The Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Sector has always recommended that services be funded to offer an integrated social and emotional wellbeing program with Aboriginal family support workers, alcohol and substance abuse workers, social workers and psychologists available.

 “Up to 15 per cent of the 10-year life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians has been put down to mental health conditions. We look forward to working with the government to map out the best possible approach to addressing this crisis in our community.

 Media contact: Colin Cowell 0401 331 251, 

NACCHO health news:Healing Foundation welcomes $26.4 million funding announcement

Richard weston 

Richard Weston, Healing Foundation CEO

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation welcomes today’s funding announcement by the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin.

 The funding, $26.4million over 4 years, will ensure the Healing Foundation’s significant work with communities throughout Australia continues.

 ‘This funding will ensure the Healing Foundation builds on its work with our communities to Close the Gap through healing’ said Richard Weston, Healing Foundation CEO.

 Initial funding for the Healing Foundation, announced in 2009-10 Budget context, was to establish a national organisation that provides practical and innovative healing services as well as education, training and research on Indigenous healing.

 Over the last 4 years the Healing Foundation has funded over 90 projects nationwide. These projects focus on the Stolen Generations, young people, connection to culture and country, and men’s and women’s healing.

 ‘It has been a privilege to be part of the development phase of the Healing Foundation. I look forward to consolidating our work around areas such as Stolen Generations, intergenerational trauma and traditional healing’ Mr Weston said.

 More information about the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation is available at

You can also find us on facebook at and on twitter @HealingOurWay


Media contact: Shivaun Inglis 0451 148 380

NACCHO condemns Aboriginal flag “skins for smokes” that covers up health warnings

Skins 2

NACCHO condems the use of “skins for smokes”  that uses cultural content and copyright imagery on cigarette packets to  negate health promotion efforts, such as Australia’s recent introduction of plain packaging laws and calls on the Federal Government to ban the sale under that legistlation

Authors: Karen McPhail-Bell, Chelsea Bond & Michelle Redman-MacLaren (see details Blow)

For just $5.29 Australians can now purchase “Skins” from local, independent grocers to cover their cigarette packet with the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander flag.

We argue that this use of cultural content and copyright[1] imagery on cigarette packets negates health promotion efforts, such as Australia’s recent introduction of plain packaging laws and the subsequent dismissal of a legal challenge from the tobacco industry.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people smoke over twice the rate of non-Indigenous Australians (ABS 2010). Health promotion practitioners working to reduce these smoking rates face the challenge of the broader historical and cultural context of smoking behaviour.

In response, health promotion efforts have endeavoured to shift, displace and resist the notion that unhealthy behaviours, such as smoking, are inherently part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.

Some examples of this approach include Queensland Health’s Smoke-free Support Program (Smoking: It could cost us our culture), the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health’s Deadly Choices campaign and other initiatives beyond Queensland (for example, Adams et al 2010; Basinkski and Parkinson 2001).

Brady (2002) has noted how throughout colonial contact, Europeans have exploited Aboriginal addiction to nicotine and therefore as health practitioners, we are concerned about what may be the continued exploitation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for economic gain.

We also note that Skins are available with the Australian flag and are concerned that more broadly, cultural and national pride is being manipulated by these companies. In other words, the sale of products that appropriate cultural content and copyright imagery for the purpose of enhancing the appeal of cigarettes is cause for alarm for us.

As a practice, health promotion endeavours to secure equal opportunity and resources to enable people to achieve their full potential in life. Thus, we raise this issue for your awareness and welcome your analysis, comments and suggestions for action. We are also working on possible responses with advocacy organisations.

Acknowledgement: The authors would like to acknowledge the contributions of Arika Errington (NACCHO) to this article.


Adams K, Liebzeit A, Jakobi M. (2010). “How’s your sugar?: A deadly website for you, your family and your community.” Aboriginal and Islander Health Worker Journal, Aug;34(5):2.

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2010). “The Health and Welfare of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, October 2010.” Journal ABS Cat No 4704.0(Issue)

Basinski D, Parkinson D. (2001). “’We saw we could do it ourselves’: Koorie Cultural Regeneration Project.” Australian Journal of Primary Health;7(1):111-5.

Brady, M. (2002) “Health inequalities: Historical and cultural roots of tobacco use among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 26(2): 120-124

[1] We note that both the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags are copyrighted materials and therefore must be reproduced in accordance the provisions of the Copyright Act 1968 or with the permission of the artists, respectively Harold Thomas and the Island Coordinating Council.

[i] School of Social Work and Public Health, Queensland University of Technology; ?

[ii] Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Unit, University of Queensland;

[iii] School of Medicine and Dentistry, James Cook University;

NACCHO good news story:Working in an ACCHO,blissful oblivion doesn’t Close the Gap


 Dr Marlene Pearce applied for a job in an ACCHO this year — an Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation. In her final year of GP training,she had been mulling over this decision for some time.

Here is her story from the Medical Observer

Initially, I thought about it like wholemeal bread — I should eat it because it’s good for me. I should do an Indigenous health term, because it’s part of being a good doctor. That’s what I told people when asked why I chose such a ‘difficult’ term.

On reflection, my motivations were broader. Two friends signed up for ACCHOs at the same time. I was intrigued as to whether our motivations were similar.

They surprisingly were, and it occurred to me we need to be asking these questions if we want more doctors to commit to Close the Gap.

I believe a good doctor in Australia should be competent in Indigenous health. A single Cultural Awareness Day at university doesn’t cut it. A rotation to a remote community is a better starting place.

One of my friends chose an elective on Thursday Island in Far North Queensland as a student. It so moved him that he made a commitment to return to Indigenous health in his career.

For me, the impetus didn’t come until I learned the startling Close the Gap facts and figures at a GP registrar conference.

Frankly, I was embarrassed and ashamed about the outrageous inequality in my First World country. I wanted to do something about it. I had been brought up with a sense of altruism and a social conscience, and I figured it was probably time I put my money where my mouth was.

I was initially reluctant. I was wary of putting my foot in it culturally. I dreaded imposing myself as the white doctor on a group of understandably angry patients, who would never engage with me in a therapeutic relationship, given I was part of the dreaded white healthcare institution. Then I heard about ACCHOs, and had a chat to the practice manager.

I realised that at an ACCHO — a community-controlled service — I was being invited in by the local Aboriginal community to provide my professional services. The clinic would help make sure I was doing it in a culturally safe way.

It was a far more palatable foray into Aboriginal health for me. I hoped that it would help remove the perceived power differential between the white doctor and the Aboriginal patient, because I was meeting the community on their terms, in their space, at their request.

I looked forward to being able to offer more time to my patients, without the pressures of fee-for-service. It’s incredibly hard to offer good care to complex patients in a standard consult. The added benefit of the supportive health workers and allied health on-site at my ACCHO meant I was not going to be thrown into the deep end.

Of course, I had preconceived ideas about working in Aboriginal health. Were they realised? Well, my eyes have certainly been opened to social disadvantage. I marvel at how stoic and strong people can be despite unimaginable hardship. Battlers have always interested me — Indigenous or not. These people rarely have a voice, and are often judged and given up on, even by doctors. I feel like I’m doing the most good when I’m working with people in hard social situations.

If the federal government is serious about trying to Close the Gap, it needs to attract the young medical workforce into Indigenous health, even just for a term. GP registrars should be supported by Regional Training Providers to take up Indigenous health in later training years, with standardised peer-matched pay rates and quality cultural awareness training.

It’s easy to be blissfully unaware of the Aboriginal health issues in this country from inside an air-conditioned tertiary hospital in a capital city. Or to have false reassurance that you’re aware, when you’re not. Get some wholemeal bread into you. You might enjoy it more than you expected.

Thanks to my mentor in writing this article, Aunty May, Elder and worker at Wathaurong Aboriginal Health Service.

Dr Marlene Pearce

GP Registrar

Read more from Dr Pearce at

We welcome contributions. Please send them to


NACCHO election 2013 alert: Macklin claims Abbott’s not-so-secret plan to cut $1.6 billion from Indigenous Australians

Tony Abbott

Throughout the election period NACCHO will present views from all sides of politics

The following is a release from the Hon Jenny Macklin

Tony Abbott’s budget reply speech last night didn’t include a single sentence on his priorities for Indigenous Australians – but that doesn’t mean Indigenous people aren’t in his sights.

Buried in his speech was Tony Abbott’s real plans for Indigenous programs and organisations:

“by not implementing any of the budget spending measures unless specified”

  • Tony Abbott, Budget in reply, 16 May 2013

Tony Abbott wants to keep it a secret, but the fact is he will make savage cuts to programs and organisations that improve the lives of Indigenous Australians.

This week’s Budget continued the Gillard Labor Government’s unprecedented investments to close the gap on Indigenous disadvantage.

The Budget included $1.6 billion in funding for improved health, education, essential services, welfare reform, recognition and advocacy.

Funding included:

  • $777 million for a new National Partnership Agreement to improve health services for Indigenous Australians;
  • $22 million to help young Indigenous people finish secondary school and go onto university, including a $10 million boost to the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation;
  • More than $24 million to continue the Cape York Welfare reform measures, building on the significant gains we’ve already made for Indigenous families in these communities;
  • $12 million to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, which assist people in the juvenile and criminal justice system and help Indigenous women to escape domestic violence;
  • More than $44 million to help deliver services in about 340 remote Indigenous communities, including power, water and road maintenance;
  • $15 million to continue supporting the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, which provides Indigenous people with a strong national voice;
  • More than $6 million to refurbish hostels that provide Indigenous people with safe and affordable temporary accommodation; and
  • $1.3 million to continue building support for the recognition of Indigenous people in our Constitution.

This funding directly improves the lives of Indigenous people – so why does Tony Abbott want to take it all away?

It’s clear that Tony Abbott will cut services to the bone if he is elected Prime Minister – and Indigenous people won’t be spared.

He wants to keep it a secret – but the truth is already out.

“Coalition sources confirm Aboriginal Affairs will see the axe wielded, should Tony Abbott take Government in September.”

  • Paul Bongiorno, Ten News, 19 April 2013

After years of underinvestment and neglect under the Howard Government, this Labor Government has made unprecedented investments to close the gap on Indigenous disadvantage, with more than $5.2 billion in funding for employment, education, health services, community development and community safety.

We have set out a clear pathway to close the gap on Indigenous disadvantage, and we’re making the investments that are needed to get there. The progress we’ve made over the past five years in partnership with Indigenous people has delivered encouraging results.

Mr Abbott puts all of this progress at risk.

Only Labor can be trusted to deliver for Indigenous Australians.