NACCHO Aboriginal health debate : Chronic drinking problem in the NT costs about $642 million annually

Alice

One new policy that does appear effective is stationing police officers outside bottleshops. Regrettably this has also stirred up racial tension. The officers check drinkers’ IDs to see if they live in a proscribed area, and confiscate their purchases if they do. John Boffa (Congress Aboriginal Health ) a spokesman for the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition, estimates reductions in domestic violence of up to 50 per cent in Alice Springs when police cover all 11 liquor outlets at once.

Priscilla Collins, chief executive of the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, thinks both AMT and APOs unfairly target the most disadvantaged, who are often also the most visible. “They will probably end up going back to the long grass,”

IF the Northern Territory were a country, it would rank alongside vodka-soaked ex-Soviet republics in terms of per capita alcohol consumption; not long ago it would have been second in the world.

 Refer NACCHO NT AMSANT grog summit news:

Four major outcomes on alcohol policy and its impact on Aboriginal people and communities

PICTURE :Police on duty outside a Northern Territory bottleshop. ‘The (alcohol) industry is now being propped up by the Alice Springs police force,’ says head of the police union Vince Kelly. Picture: Amos Aikman Source: News Limited

Alcohol abuse costs the NT about $642 million annually in police time, corrections, judicial support, medical treatment and lost productivity – equivalent to roughly $4000 per person or 4 1/2times the national average – according to research quoted by the government last year. The latest figures show per capita alcohol consumption is again on the rise, ending a six-year decline.

Territory drivers are 20 times more likely than the national average to be caught over the limit; booze is a factor in many road deaths. A majority of Territory assaults involve alcohol and the Territory’s assault victimisation rate is more than 50 per cent above the rest of the nation’s.

In 2011-12, indigenous women were 18 times more likely to be bashed than non-indigenous women, and four times more likely than the Territory average.

Last financial year saw almost 40 per cent more alcohol-related assaults and almost 60 per cent more domestic violence related assaults than the equivalent period five years ago.

Since the Country Liberals took office 18 months ago, Aboriginal groups and legal and health policy experts have accused the Territory government of criminalising drunkenness, ignoring evidence and favouring the interests of the alcohol industry.

The government insists its policies are both appropriate and working, though many cracks have emerged. The CLP campaigned on a pledge to cut crime by 10 per cent annually – which by a slip of the tongue quickly became 10 per cent in a four-year term once it took office. CLP backbencher Gary Higgins recently acknowledged MPs are receiving a “barrage of complaints” about alcohol abuse from the community. His comments drew a quick rebuke from Chief Minister Adam Giles, who said: “We know that there are issues with alcohol in our society, but anyone who has a good look at the statistics will see that things are getting better.”

After repeatedly dodging questions about the saga unfolding on his doorstep, federal Indigenous Affairs Minister and NT senator Nigel Scullion proposed a sweeping national inquiry into drinking habits. The following day he appeared to have been overruled by his colleagues in favour of a tighter probe into Aboriginal drinking that will scrutinise the CLP policies more closely. Giles has already suggested any inquiry would be “navel gazing”. Nevertheless, the process offers his government an opportunity to gracefully adjust its course.

The CLP’s first act in office was to abolish Labor’s Banned Drinker Register, a point-of-sale supply restriction designed to curb heavy drinking. For almost a year, while the new government convulsed with internal ructions, nothing replaced the BDR. Then less than a month after Giles took power in a coup in March, his government unveiled a forced alcohol rehabilitation program called Alcohol Mandatory Treatment. The scheme, which has been running for seven months, involves locking up habitual drinkers in treatment centres with fences and guards.

Associated legislation was passed in the face of vocal opposition. At about $43,000 per drinker treated, AMT is more expensive than many private rehabilitation clinics. Experts think 5 per cent success would be good going. More than 150 people have completed the program; the government has established 120 beds. Alcohol Rehabilitation Minister Robyn Lambley says some patients have had their lives changed, but others are known to have relapsed.

Before Christmas a system of on-the-spot alcohol bans, Alcohol Protection Orders, was also legislated, again despite opposition. These affect people charged with, but not necessarily convicted of, offences in which alcohol was deemed a factor.

The government argues these policies transfer responsibility from society to drinkers, but important figures, such as head of the NT police union Vince Kelly, argue that is a furphy. “If you’re an alcoholic you haven’t got (personal responsibility) in the first place, and if you’re an intergenerational alcoholic you probably don’t know what the concept means.”

Not long ago a doctor who played a key role in establishing AMT, Lee Nixon, walked out in disgust. “A large number of (AMT patients) had little understanding of the process, and at the end of the time when they were there, were still asking, ‘Why am I here?’,” Nixon told ABC’s Lateline. “At the outset it was clear that we were introducing a program with no evidential base for effectiveness.” One drinker had her treatment order overturned by a court on the grounds she received it without proper legal representation. Justice groups say few drinkers appear before the AMT Tribunal with a lawyer.

Priscilla Collins, chief executive of the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, thinks both AMT and APOs unfairly target the most disadvantaged, who are often also the most visible. “They will probably end up going back to the long grass,” she says.

Shortly after taking up his post, Alcohol Policy Minister Dave Tollner openly acknowledged one of AMT’s goals was to push drinkers to “go and hide out in the scrub”. AMT is now being reviewed.

The CLP has trenchantly refused to contemplate imposing any new supply restrictions. Giles told a gathering of hoteliers drinking was a “core social value”, while Tollner said Labor had treated publicans “akin to heroin traffickers”. The latest round of annual political returns to the Australian Electoral Commission reveal the alcohol industry’s main lobby, the Australian Hotels Association, has emerged as the Territory’s largest political donor. The organisation contributed $300,000, split between the major parties in the lead up to the August 2012 Territory election. According to an analysis of declared donations, the lobby donated almost 14 times as much per head of population in the Territory while the BDR was in place than it has in any other jurisdiction in the past decade.

At the time it was abolished there was little evidence clearly supporting the BDR. However it has since become clearer that although policy did not turn around increases in alcohol-related harm and violence as promised, it may have blunted them. Some quite senior CLP figures talk privately about bringing the BDR back.

One new policy that does appear effective is stationing police officers outside bottleshops. Regrettably this has also stirred up racial tension. The officers check drinkers’ IDs to see if they live in a proscribed area, and confiscate their purchases if they do. John Boffa, a spokesman for the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition, estimates reductions in domestic violence of up to 50 per cent in Alice Springs when police cover all 11 liquor outlets at once.

However the approach is a de facto supply restriction, with responsibility for enforcement transferred from the liquor retailer to the public service, as Kelly points out: “The (alcohol) industry is now being propped up by the Alice Springs police force.”

Combined with AMT’s high price tag, the government’s measures do not look at all cost effective. Assuming the number of people taking up drinking is proportional to population growth overall, the government would need at least five times the present number of AMT beds just to keep the number of alcoholics stable. The cost of that would exceed $1 billion by the end of the decade, or roughly 20 per cent of last year’s Territory budget.

Higgins called for a bipartisan inquiry with measures his government officially opposes – an alcohol floor price, shorter opening hours and BDR-like supply controls – put back on the table. “While they do inconvenience a lot of people, all of them should be considered,” he said. Kelly thinks there is a “gaping hole” in public policy around alcohol supply issues. “Neither the Labor government or the CLP government has covered itself in glory when it comes to that type of thing because they’re simply too close to the industry,” he says.

“There has got to be some serious question about whether (an inquiry) is warranted.”

A serious investigation would need to consider not just the efficacy of a range of policies, but the circumstances in which they are applied. Alcohol bans in remote communities push drinkers into towns, where their drinking often worsens. Proscribed urban areas leave residents who can legally buy takeaway alcohol unable to legally drink it. Stationing police outside bottleshops increases familial pressure on those living in non-proscribed areas to become involved in the alcohol supply trade; anecdotal evidence suggests the black market is thriving.

Some federally administered draft alcohol management plans are stuck in limbo, in part because it is unclear what the basic requirements are for Aboriginal communities to responsibly manage alcohol themselves. Community leaders often blame disenfranchisement for their giving up on the task. Many people familiar with these issues say the solutions lie not in textbooks or boardroom chats, but in the lives of Aboriginal people; another desktop study will not help.

It is also worth considering whether alcohol-related harm can be reduced to acceptable levels soon, or just mitigated and hidden. Not even the last of those has been accomplished so far. NT Attorney General John Elferink argues for stricter controls on welfare to break the link between welfare dependency and drinking: “We can build massive institutions to deal with alcoholism, but while the federal government pours free money into our jurisdiction, spending millions of dollars every fortnight, we as a government are going to be spending millions of dollars every fortnight cleaning up the mess.” Without action on several of these fronts, the NT’s alcohol abuse crisis looks likely to get worse.

NACCHO Aboriginal health political alert:’PM for Indigenous affairs’ has his task cut out on that front

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EARLY life experiences become hard-wired into the body, with lifelong effects on health and wellbeing.”

A very important statement – but not news. Research demonstrating the complex interplay of “givens” (genetics) and early-life “contingent factors” (the environment of pregnancy and early childhood) in determining lifelong risk of ill-health dates back to the middle of the last century.

From diabetes to depression, the intra-uterine and early childhood environments critically influence the quality and length of our lives.

FROM THE AUSTRALIAN Ernest Hunter is a medical practitioner in north Queensland.

Photo courtesy Apunipima Cape York Health Council Photovoice project. Photographer Grace Morris’.

The quote opens the Australian Medical Association’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Report Card 2012-2013, with Steve Hambleton, president of the AMA, commenting in the introduction on “gaps in preventive child health care, the promotion of early childhood development, and the alleviation of key risks for adverse developmental outcomes, especially in remote communities”.

Download report card here

In fact, it can reasonably be argued that developmental adversity is the main contributor to the continuing poor health status of indigenous Australians. That’s the bad news; to the extent that those effects “become hard-wired into the body”, it may not be possible to rectify – at times even to modify – the harms done.

In my role as a psychiatrist and public health physician in Cape York, most of my work is about mitigating the downstream consequences, be it psychosis, depression, interpersonal violence, self-harm, alcohol abuse or chronic disease. There is no shortage of work for clinicians.

While indigenous developmental vulnerability and its effects should be cause for alarm, it is not a reason for fatalism. Indeed, the good news is that the scope for intervention and prevention is enormous and, broadly, we know what needs to be achieved: equity in pregnancy and early childhood health and social outcomes.

Unfortunately, we do not know how to get there – although, clearly, it’s not through business as usual. Even if it is achievable it will take generations for the full effects of healthy pregnancies and early childhoods to be reflected in a reduction in the burden of chronic disease from midlife on, particularly in remote Aboriginal communities.

Imagine if somehow the pregnancies of young indigenous women, right now, were no more likely than non-indigenous pregnancies to be exposed to smoking, alcohol consumption, other drug use, the effects of violence, high levels of maternal stress hormones and inadequate nutrition; if the babies were born to women at no greater risk of prematurity and labour complications, who have had access to the same quality of antenatal and birthing services. Don’t stop – imagine if those babies, now as healthy as their peers across Australia – could spend their infancies in safe, nurturing and stimulating environments in which they were nourished and cherished by their parents, no more likely to be exposed to abuse, neglect or removal from their families; if they did not live in overcrowded houses and were protected from the waves of chaos and stress that wash through homes in remote communities. Imagine.

Even if this miracle did occur, service demands will remain unchanged for a long time as the developmental adversity experienced by older relatives works its effects through the population. Indeed the consequences are evident already among their older siblings, let alone those suffering chronic diseases in middle age.

Educational disadvantage has received a lot of media attention, as has fetal alcohol exposure, both of which predispose affected children to a range of additional risks that will follow them through their lives. Lives that in many cases will be much shorter: the Commission for Children and Young People and the Child Guardian annual report on the deaths of children in Queensland records that between 2004-05 and 2012-13 the suicide rate of indigenous children aged 10 to 17 was more than 5.5 times higher than that of their non-indigenous peers.

The Australian public was given cause for some optimism with the announcement by Tony Abbott prior to the federal election that he intended to be the “prime minister for indigenous affairs” and that he would be “hands on”. Since becoming PM he has appointed, with fanfare, an Indigenous Advisory Council, which first met in December under the leadership of Warren Mundine. Unsurprisingly, this move has been divisive in the wider indigenous population (indeed there is a petition initiated by writer Ken Canning for it to be replaced by an elected body).

Abbott has many other pressing demands; he has alluded also to the sobriquet of “the infrastructure PM” and he could be a contender for the title of “tow/push the boats back PM” too – and much more. But his statements about indigenous affairs were clearly broadcast, and the implication was that he would brook no obstruction to pursuing it as a national – and personal – priority.

So it is surprising to hear rumours, just months after his seemingly heartfelt assurance, that he has reconsidered (or been forced to reconsider) his and the Coalition’s political investment.

While the Indigenous Advisory Council is now at the table and constitutional reform placed back on it, the setting is, so far, pretty humble. The main course may be a way off but the entrees are hardly satisfying.

Following on the heels of the announcement of funding cuts for legal services, Mundine has anticipated that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians may have to share the pain of national economic recovery.

In Queensland, of course, they are already sharing it. Among the outcomes of the cuts and divestments since the change of the Queensland government has been a reduction in human resources and institutional capacity in population health and social programs which will have the greatest consequences for those most disadvantaged, the residents of remote Queensland Aboriginal communities.

As they have less visibility and voice, and as the effects will be delayed, it’s a safe political strategy. And, of course, it can always be passed off as a commonwealth responsibility.

Who should pay – commonwealth or state – has been argued ad nauseam. That has been and remains a major obstacle to effective action. But, in terms of responsibility, Abbott made a commitment – to the nation – that he would personally take on the challenge of making a difference for indigenous Australians.

I want to believe that it was sincere and that he understood, in making it, that it will require broad support and long-term effort. Whether he is sufficiently inclusive or overly reliant on particular individuals will be debated and will play out. But if he really is the “PM for indigenous affairs” then he needs to lead and be seen to do so – “hands on”. And he needs to be in there for the long haul.

These two issues, developmental determinants and opportunities, and assertive political leadership, are linked. Sufficient and sustained investment in the former is the surest means to effect significant gains in indigenous health (though perhaps not the most politically visible in the short term) and is dependent on the latter.

In election mode Abbott also frequently commented that “we say what we mean and we do what we say”. Now it’s time for doing.

Ernest Hunter is a medical practitioner in north Queensland.

NACCHO political alert: An open letter to the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council from a NACCHO member

DON

“I believe passionately in the creation of relevant and workable policies that can bring real change into our communities, policies that have the ability to create better health, education and social outcomes for our people.

I am keenly aware of the many and far-reaching issues surrounding Aboriginal Affairs, as Chief Executive Officer of Awabakal Newcastle Aboriginal Co-Operative, I am faced with these challenges daily.

Don MacAskill  (pictured above in plain shirt with the Deadley Choices mob)

An open letter to the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council:

Reasonable questions regarding the Terms of Reference

 To the members of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council, firstly, I thank you for your service and commitment to Aboriginal affairs and issues facing our communities today.

Like many Indigenous people, I was encouraged and hopeful after the announcement of an Indigenous Advisory Council, dedicated to representing the needs and concerns of Aboriginal people across the country. I hope that the Council’s opportunity to work closely with Prime Minister Abbott as he strives to improve the health and welfare of Aboriginal people is maximised, and that you will be courageous in your efforts to ensure he truly is the ‘Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs’.

While I believe this has the potential to be a worthwhile initiative, I do have a few concerns regarding the transparency of the Council and what the reporting obligations will be to the community. I have listed a few of these concerns below, and look forward to receiving your thoughts on the following.

After some basic research, I have been unable to locate any information detailing the policies and frameworks around the Council. I, and many others in the community, are curious as to how members were elected, and what selection process was undertaken?

Will the frameworks around the Council, for example, code of conduct, reporting responsibilities, minutes of meetings, key performance indicators of both individual and whole of council performance, be made publicly available?

Another area I felt was unclear was relating to the scope of the Council, and the specific impacts it has on policy creation, the assessment of existing policies relating to the Indigenous community, or whether it is simply there to provide advice when requested by the Prime Minister?

Has a strategic plan, complete with objectives and evaluation models, been developed and will this be available for the public? What reports will be made available to the public? As I noted with some concern, stated within the Terms of Reference, ‘the deliberation of the Council will be confidential, but the Council may choose to issue a statement after its meetings.’ There appears to be a worrying lack of transparency, and I have concerns this may undermine the meaningful changes the Council has the opportunity to effect.

I believe passionately in the creation of relevant and workable policies that can bring real change into our communities, policies that have the ability to create better health, education and social outcomes for our people.

I am keenly aware of the many and far-reaching issues surrounding Aboriginal Affairs, as Chief Executive Officer of Awabakal Newcastle Aboriginal Co-Operative, I am faced with these challenges daily. I have been following with some interest, the debate which has been raging within mainstream media regarding the decision making process of not only the Council, but also of Government as a whole.

Pragmatism vs ideology, has dominated the conversation and I believe this is a conversation all Australians need to have.

Our social justice values and the policies and laws that govern wider Australia, are based on several ideologies, mateship, a fair go for all, and taking care of the less fortunate. This is what forms the basis, in my opinion, of what makes us Australian.

The Council itself has been founded on the bipartisan ideology of ‘Closing the Gap’ and all the critical work that needs to be done to achieve this now and into the future.

In order to achieve real outcomes for the Aboriginal community, I believe Ideology should form the basis of every policy developed by those elected to govern, for those they represent. Should it not be the structure, implementation and evaluation of these policies that is pragmatic? Pragmatic solutions solidly rooted in the fundamental ideals we, as a country, support and embody?

I for one do not agree that the decision-making process must be simply ideological, or pragmatic, surely the integration of these concepts has not been eroded from our public consciousness so completely that they are now mutually exclusive.

I do not want to imagine a country, where decisions that impact on our most vulnerable and disenfranchised groups are made purely on economic or political reasons, nor do I want to see policy created based on ideology that has not root in best practice or better outcomes for the community.

I hope through the creation of this Council, you can find a way to engage the broader Aboriginal community and marry these two fundamental concepts in a way that achieves socially just, financially responsible and transparent outcomes for the community.

I look forward to seeing the outcomes you achieve through this Council, on the ground in my community.

Kind regards, Don MacAskill Awabakal Newcastle Aboriginal Co-Operative 0249 408 103

NACCHO news

HAVE You checked out the NACCHO APP HERE ?

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DOWNLOAD links here

The NACCHO App contains a geo locator, which will help you find the nearest Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation in your area and automatically creates a number to call .

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NACCHO political alert DAY 4: Abbott’s radical shake-up team of Aboriginal affairs and health will be named within 10 days.

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Mr Mundine defended Mr Abbott’s decision not to have a specific indigenous health minister in his line up. “I’m very comfortable with the way that has panned out,” he said. “Does it mean that health is going to be put back down the chain? No it’s not, it’s going to be a major priority.”

As reported by Lisa Martin AAP

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s new team to instigate a radical shake-up of indigenous affairs will be named within 10 days.

The incoming chairman of Mr Abbott’s new indigenous advisory council, Warren Mundine, has flagged the announcement of the panel’s terms of reference and composition.

Mr Mundine said he was happy and relaxed about how it was coming together

The council will have a gender balance and representatives from all state and territories.

“It’s a massive challenge that we have to do,” he told Sky News.

Mr Mundine said the council’s biggest priority would be looking at spending.

“We’re very much focused on an economic outcome and commercial activity happening in indigenous communities,” he said.

“It’s not about what programs will be cut.”

The former Labor national president was tight-lipped on whether dumped Aboriginal NT Minister Alison Anderson would have a role on the board.

“Alison Anderson will be a person we have conversations with,” he said.

“I’m not here to make an announcement about who is on or off the council, that’s up to the Prime Minister.”

Mr Abbott unsuccessfully tried to woo Ms Anderson to the federal political arena late last year and was criticised for saying that it would be terrific to have an “authentic” indigenous representative of central Australia in Canberra.

Mr Mundine defended Mr Abbott’s decision not to have a specific indigenous health minister in his line up.

“I’m very comfortable with the way that has panned out,” he said.

“Does it mean that health is going to be put back down the chain? No it’s not, it’s going to be a major priority.”

Former indigenous health minister Warren Snowdon has raised concerns it may affect progress on closing the gap.

“It is outrageous that the gains made by the Labor government to close the gap in life expectancy are now potentially under threat because of poor planning, buck passing and lack of priority given to Indigenous Health by the new Abbott government,” Mr Snowdon said.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Abbott told AAP that indigenous health would be the responsibility of Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion and indigenous health programs would fall under the department of PM&C.

Mr Mundine clarified that the coalition’s proposed $42 million cuts to indigenous legal services was money to be reviewed not cut.

NACCHO Aboriginal health news alert: Confusion still surrounds future of Aboriginal health in new government structure

Balupalu-Yunup-Djuwalpi-and-Djawa-Yunupingu-Mills-Scullion

“A spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Abbott told AAP indigenous health would be the responsibility of Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion and indigenous health programs would fall under the department of PM&C.”

Lisa Martin AAP News  (full report below) Picture above Senator Nigel Scullion and Warren Mundine at the recent  Garma Festival

Confusion still surrounds the future department /minister responsible for Aboriginal health under the new Abbott government  sworn in yesterday (18 September 2013)

In an interview with NITV the new Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Senator Nigel Scullion responded to NITV concerns about the  Indigenous Health portfolio by confirming that Senator Fiona Nash will be responsible for Aboriginal Health as the new Minister for Rural Health under Peter Dutton the new Minister for Health.

But Senator Scullion told NITV National News he would work closely with Senator Fiona Nash – who has the assistant health portfolio.

There is a minister for rural health, or a deputy minister, an assistant minister for health and that’s Senator Fiona Nash. I’ll work very closely with Senator Nash.. she’s one of my colleagues in the Senate, she’s going to make an excellent minister.

“Clearly in terms of many of the demographics in need of health, in regional and remote areas, certainly in those areas will come under her commute, so it hasn’t been abandoned it’s just simply been placed in another area.

“…We are going to have a very very good focus and a fresh focus on Indigenous health.”

In the interview the Senator praised NACCHO member  Aboriginal community controlled health organisations as “Top of the BOX” second to none as well run organisations not only in the Aboriginal context but in the national context.

VIEW NITV Nigel Scullion Interview here on NACCHO TV

However AAP news service today is reporting (see full report below) that spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Abbott told AAP indigenous health would be the responsibility of Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion and indigenous health programs would fall under the department of PM&C.

In an interview with NITV last night the Chair of NACCHO Justin Mohamed welcomed the opportunity to work with all ministers and advisors in the new Abbott government to discuss investment in Healthy futures for generational change.

VIEW NITV interview with Justin Mohamed here on NACCHO TV

An official NACCHO response to the new ABBOTT government’s allocation of Indigenous Health will be available in the next few days when the position becomes clearer.

FULL AAP REPORT

AUSTRALIA’S former indigenous health minister is concerned Prime Minister Tony Abbott has not retained the position in his ministry and warned it may affect progress on closing the gap.

Northern Territory Labor MP Warren Snowdon, who was the first indigenous health minister from 2009 until Labor lost power, is concerned about whether Aboriginal health is actually a priority for the incoming government.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has flagged he will move indigenous affairs under the umbrella of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C).

But in administrative arrangements released on Wednesday there is no specific reference to indigenous health in either PM&C, the department of health or ministerial responsibilities.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Abbott told AAP indigenous health would be the responsibility of Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion and indigenous health programs would fall under the department of PM&C.

Asked if the absence of a specific minister could negatively impact efforts to achieve the close the gap targets and improve life expectancy, Mr Snowdon told AAP: “I think it is a problem.”

The life expectancy gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians is 11.5 years for men and 9.7 years for women.

This year’s report card on it said efforts to close the gap on life expectancy by 2031 were falling behind.

Mr Snowdon, who released Australia’s first national indigenous health plan in July, says he is concerned about the Abbott government’s commitment to it.

The coalition dismissed it as an exercise in political spin and lacking substance when it was released.

Mr Snowdon is also worried about progress on negotiations for a new national partnership agreement between states and territories on indigenous health.

The previous agreement expired in June and had $1.57 billion in combined federal and state funding.

Labor committed $777 million until 2016 in the May budget towards the national partnership agreement, but so far only Victoria has offered money.

NACCHO political alert: How will the new Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion be different ?

Nigel

“We’re bringing the functions of a whole range of Indigenous specific functions across to Prime Minister and Cabinet. Health will stay with Health, education will stay with Education, but there are a whole range of functions we’re taking out of the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, and the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and out of other departments, functions that are either remote or Indigenous specific”

Nigel Scullion will today be sworn in as Indigenous Affairs Minister, in a series of interviews yesterday with ABC radio and the Alice Springs news he spelt out his plans for Indigenous Affairs within the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet

Interview transcript ABC radio

Nigel Scullion has been appointed Indigenous Affairs Minister, giving the NT its first Federal Cabinet Minister since the Country Liberals were formed.

Tony Abbott has announced that Senator Scullion is keeping the portfolio that he was spokesman on in the last parliamentary term, and it will sit within the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Senator Scullion said his Government was giving Australia’s indigenous communities a new commitment to listen to their solutions to challenging problems.

“To work with communities, not make decisions and impose them on communities,” Senator Scullion said.

“Communities best know how to get their kids to school.

“Communities know the very best way to move some of their participants from welfare into work.

“Communities know how to make their own communities safe.”

The Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister-elect said he’d asked the Government’s Indigenous advisory committee to look at how to tackle reliance on welfare.

Senator Scullion said the Government planned to toughen the requirement for people to take available jobs in urban areas.

He said, in remote communities, the Government would consider if it was appropriate to expect people to stay on Newstart welfare payments if there were no jobs for them to do.

“Given that Newstart has an implication that this is a transitionary time from where they are to a job, well, if there are no jobs – and in the many communities there are no jobs, it’s simply a welfare community – I think that’s an unacceptable situation that we should pretend there are jobs there.”

Secondly he spoke this morning with Alice Springs News Online editor ERWIN CHLANDA.

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Outback answers to bush welfare mess

NEWS: Is there a case for expanding the principle of stopping the dole for people rejecting offers of work, for expecting that people who have assets use them for projects that create work? Aborigines in The Centre own half a million square kilometres.

SCULLION: Receiving Newstart payments in an area that has no economy and no jobs is inappropriate. In these conditions governments have been taking the view that the dole is unconditional.

We know that is not acceptable in the long term. Newstart is for people between jobs, searching for jobs. We need to look at that more broadly.

The development of an economy such as tourism, broad-acre or pastoral industries, manufacturing – these are very important elements of the future and the government plays an important role.

NEWS: Is there a case for Aboriginal land trusts and land councils to look for joint ventures with job creation as a main focus?

SCULLION: I’ve had long conversations with land owners about a range of issues, from tenure to development. As areas are developed and jobs become available, and we move to an economy, then clearly we would have a reasonable expectation to involve people currently disconnected.

If they are able to work then they should be working. I’ve not heard anyone saying no, we don’t need economic development and we want to continue to receive welfare. Nobody’s told me that. We’ll be working closely with the land councils.

In the area you’re speaking off, places like Ali Curung, it has been disappointing that a melon farm is six kilometers up the road from able bodied men and women and they find it very difficult to get employment. That’s an issue. It’s a complex one.

Who’s currently making the decisions? This is an area where they are adjacent to an economy, and adjacent to jobs. If there is a job there, and you’re simply saying, I’m just not going to take that job, well, there’s no unconditional welfare.

The leverage of moving people away from the horrors of welfare into employment – it’s good enough for people in the mainstream. These opportunities should also be available to Aboriginal people.

NEWS: Is there a reluctance by the land trusts and land councils to enter into joint ventures that could create jobs?

SCULLION: The use of broad-acre land such as in other states is one of the low hanging fruits of economic development. Look over the fence! Whatever they’ve been doing there for the last 30, 40 years is probably a good indicator of how to use the land. As to the land councils, I’m always interested in hearing submissions. They should be assisting the land owners where they can.

Separate services: Congress gets big tick

NEWS: What’s the future of the big Aboriginal organisations in Alice Springs? Tangentyere and Congress, for example?

SCULLION: We don’t need duplication of services. We need very good services. If you talk about the application of municipal services in some of the town camps by Tangentyere, I have had a number of people telling me that they don’t believe the service they are getting is particularly good.

If you live in some areas of Alice Springs you shouldn’t be delivered a different service, you should be getting exactly the same service. And equally you should be expected to pay for it. For example, normalcy for the town council would be, who’s going to pay rates?

NEWS: What about Congress?

SCULLION: Congress in Alice Springs is probably one of the best health organisations in Australia, full stop. They have moved to a very good business model that has been picked up in other parts of Australia.

They’re fundamentally welded to Medicare, they ensure all of their clients have a Medicare card. It’s the same sort of [positive] index you get across Australia, particularly in demographics with larger areas of need.

NEWS: What’s on top of your agenda as the new Minister?

SCULLION: Talking with my partners in the other jurisdictions, discussions about structural changes in the departments, moving many of the instruments of government into Prime Minister and Cabinet, the formation of a new role.

NEWS: Which functions of Indigenous Affairs will be moved?

SCULLION: We’re bringing the functions of a whole range of Indigenous specific functions across to Prime Minister and Cabinet. Health will stay with Health, education will stay with Education, but there are a whole range of functions we’re taking out of the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, and the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and out of other departments, functions that are either remote or Indigenous specific

NACCHO political alert: Don’t ignore Aboriginal male health new Government urged

Mark

The Mad Bastards

Sharing Jack Bulman’s outrage about the funding back-down is leading Aboriginal doctor and men’s health campaigner, Dr Mark Wenitong, (a consultant to NACCHO) who described the Mad Bastards program as, “one of the few really resonant resources that speak intimately to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males in a way they can relate to.”

“We know this program works and works well, and our communities know it works well,” said Dr Wenitong. “But once again Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men’s health has been sacrificed.”

Jack

Press release

A national Indigenous men’s health charity said the withdrawal of a federal funding offer for a unique national program is further evidence of government neglect of Aboriginal men’s health.

Jack

Mibbinbah CEO Jack Bulman said his organisation had been offered funding to deliver the Mad Bastards program for a year by Indigenous Health Minister, Warren Snowdon, only to have it snatched away again as the Government moved into caretaker mode.

The Mad Bastards Guide: Be The Best You Can Be is an award winning outreach program that builds on the success of ‘Mad Bastards’ – the movie.

Developed over the past two years by a volunteer working group of Aboriginal men’s health experts, doctors and academics the successful outreach program has been delivered in seven communities and within the Western Australian corrections system and has been praised for its ability to inspire cultural strengthening and cultural exchange across generations.

The program has been developed and delivered with not one cent of government money.

“Those of us working in Aboriginal men’s health are used to being largely ignored and having to fight for funding,” said Mr Bulman. “But to be offered a relatively small amount of money (less than $400,000) to deliver a vital service to Aboriginal men and then have the offer withdrawn by the Minister’s office is both cruel and unacceptable.”

Mr Bulman said that there was compelling evidence that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men’s health was regularly given a low priority by Australian governments.

“Here we have a program which came from the Aboriginal community itself; was developed and delivered to communities and prisons across the country by volunteers using no tax-payers money and which has received universal support from both Aboriginal men and women as a powerful and effective tool for health and healing and the minister’s office treats us with contempt.

“This has caused our efforts enormous damage and has dismayed the lots of communities who see this program as something that can help our men back to their rightful place in society, and in doing help women, children and whole of communities,” said Mr Bulman.

Sharing Jack Bulman’s outrage about the funding back-down is leading Aboriginal doctor and men’s health campaigner, Dr Mark Wenitong, who described the Mad Bastards program as, “one of the few really resonant resources that speak intimately to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males in a way they can relate to.”

“We know this program works and works well, and our communities know it works well,” said Dr Wenitong. “But once again Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men’s health has been sacrificed.”

“How are we going to close the gap without our men? How can we turn around the terrible fact that more Aboriginal men are in prison than complete year 12? How are we going to create safe, nurturing families and communities for our kids to grow up in and meet their full potential if our men aren’t healed and don’t have purpose?” asked Mr Bulman. “We want Governments, to get fair dinkum about our health and well-being; the Howard Government didn’t prioritise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males’ health and well-being; the Rudd and Gillard governments have continued this paying lip service to our health.

“The Rudd/Gillard government spent $13m on the failed Grocery Watch and $18.4 million was spent by the Howard Government on maintaining two permanent residences Kirribilli House and the Lodge but apparently we can’t find less than half a million to provide real opportunities for healing Aboriginal men.

“We urge the incoming government, whoever wins on Saturday, to take our health needs seriously and start by funding a tried and true effective program which assists our men to health themselves and take responsibility for their own actions.

“It’s time to act, Mr Rudd and Mr Abbott,” Jack Bulman said.

For more information and interviews:

Mibbinbah CEO Jack Bulman 0416 173 975

Dr Mark Wenitong 0417 648 767

http://mibbinbah.org/

http://www.madbastards.com.au/

NACCHO AMA political alert: Big “bang”gap in health policies to Close the Gap

photo (5)

“No party has yet produced a comprehensive Indigenous health policy that would provide significant new funding and direction to build on the modest but welcome successes to date of the Closing the Gap strategy.

“The ideal health policy for this election would combine elements of each of the policies on offer from Labor, the Coalition and The Greens – topped with a ‘big bang’ Indigenous health policy and a well-articulated approach to dealing with the growing impact of chronic disease.

AMA President, Dr Steve Hambleton, (picture above left with NACCHO CEO Lisa Briggs, Chair Justin Mohamed and DoHA Department Secretary Jane Halton)

AMA PRESS RELEASE

AMA President, Dr Steve Hambleton, today urged the major parties to plug the gaps in their election health platforms before Saturday’s election.

Dr Hambleton said that there are lots of votes in positive, forward-looking health policies and there is still time for Mr Rudd and Mr Abbott to pitch more comprehensive health policies to the electorate.

“I set a health policy challenge at the National Press Club in July,” Dr Hambleton said.

“We currently have a new set of problems and challenges in meeting the health needs of the Australian community, and they require a new set of solutions – and that is the great task for the major parties.

“Any change must be tested against the reasons we need proper health reform – mainly our increasing burden of chronic disease and our ageing population.

“Proposals should be moving us toward a joined-up, strengthened primary health care system built on team-based solutions.

“The Labor emphasis to date in this campaign has been on hospital infrastructure, while the Coalition is concentrating on primary care, especially general practice.

“The Greens have focused on access to healthcare, public health and environmental health.  They have a policy that supports the AMA proposal for an independent panel to assess the health of asylum seekers.

“No party has yet produced a comprehensive Indigenous health policy that would provide significant new funding and direction to build on the modest but welcome successes to date of the Closing the Gap strategy.

“The ideal health policy for this election would combine elements of each of the policies on offer from Labor, the Coalition and The Greens – topped with a ‘big bang’ Indigenous health policy and a well-articulated approach to dealing with the growing impact of chronic disease.

“We encourage the major parties to commit to practical and affordable policies that would improve public health, help the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in the community, and ensure a strong, highly skilled medical workforce to meet the future health needs of the community.

“The AMA released a Key Health Issues plan in July, which set out achievable policies that would deliver health service improvements at the front line, directly to patients.

“Some elements have been addressed, but many haven’t.

“We remind our political leaders of what they can do to bolster their health credentials in the final days of the campaign.”

Indigenous Health No significant new funding or direction to build on the modest but welcome successes to date of the Closing the Gap strategy.

Scrap the Cap The Government deferred its ill-considered cap on the tax deductibility of self-education expenses, but no party has yet been prepared to dump this policy, which is bad for education, productivity, and the economy, as well as the safety and quality of our health services.

Medical Training The AMA remains committed to working with the next Government to come up with a long-term policy that supports medical education and training.

Despite the major parties announcing additional intern places in the private sector, which were welcomed, no party has tackled the need to better coordinate the medical training pipeline or address the looming shortage of prevocational and specialist training positions as predicted by Health Workforce Australia.

There needs to be a concerted effort through COAG processes to commit to additional prevocational and specialist training places, including in general practice, with funding to match, in order to ensure that Australia can properly address future community health needs

Chronic Disease The major parties need to do more to tackle the impact of chronic disease so that we can keep people well and out of hospital.  Current Medicare arrangements impose too much paperwork on GPs and limit access to services for patients with higher health care needs.

The major parties need to do more to support GPs in caring for these patients by streamlining current Medicare arrangements and by looking to adopt innovative approaches such as the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Coordinated Veterans Care program more broadly.

We note and welcome the proposed Australian Prevention Partnership Centre, launched today by Federal Minister for Health and Minister for Medical Research Tanya Plibersek, to research what works and what doesn’t in helping people make lifestyle changes to prevent chronic disease.

Rural Health Rural health has still missed out on the big funding boost it needs to address rural medical workforce shortages.

The AMA/RDAA Rural Rescue Package outlines the funding required to get more doctors into rural and remote Australia, with the right mix of skills to deliver services to these communities

Healthier Australian Families There has been no specific policy announcement from Labor or the Coalition on significant public health concerns around Better Environmental Health (effects of climate change, better standards for clean air, greater health monitoring of non-conventional gas mining projects), Preventing Harms of Alcohol (curbs on alcohol marketing to young people, minimum pricing for alcohol products), or Asylum Seeker Health (independent panel).

Dementia, Aged Care and Palliative Care We acknowledge and welcome recent policy announcements around palliative care and dementia, but they do not go to the key issue of access to medical care.

The major parties need to ensure that people with dementia, those who require palliative care, and older Australians with complex and multiple conditions can receive appropriate medical care.  The major parties need to do more to ensure the Medicare arrangements are geared to deal with the increasing numbers of these patients and the need to better manage these patients in the community.

Better recognition of and support for the time that doctors spend assessing patients, organising services and providing support to the patient’s family and carers would ensure that quality dementia, palliative and medical care for the elderly is provided inappropriate settings.  This would relieve the counterproductive use of acute services.

Affordable Medical Services Immediately restore indexation of MBS patient rebates.  Reverse the decision to raise the Extended Medicare Safety Net threshold from 2015.  Restore tax deductibility of out-of-pocket medical and health care gaps.

Authority Prescriptions While the major parties mention tackling red tape, no party has committed to reducing the time wasted by doctors having to telephone the Department of Human Services (DHS) to obtain an authority to write prescriptions for certain PBS medicines.  Based on DHS information, up to 25,000 patient consultations are lost while doctors wait for their calls to DHS to be answered.

AMA Key Health Issues for the 2013 Federal Election is available on the AMA website at https://ama.com.au/keyhealthissues

The AMA publication, Alcohol Marketing and Young People, is at https://ama.com.au/alcohol-marketing-and-young-people

NACCHO political alert: Peak Aboriginal organisation lashes Abbott and ticks off Labor

Congress Mob

The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples (Congress) has written to its 172 member organisations and almost 6500 individuals members, asking them to hold major political parties accountable for their policies and pledges regarding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the 2013 federal election.

An open letter by Co-Chairs Les Malezer and Kirstie Parker (pictured above top left) provides an overview of the policies and pronouncements both before and during the election campaign of the Australian Greens (Greens), Australian Labor Party (ALP), the Liberal Party of Australia and the Nationals (the Coalition).

Congress wrote to the parties in August asking for responses on key principles outlined in our document ‘Rights, Respect and Recognition: Congress’ Expectations of Australia’s Political Leadership’.

VIEW HERE

The responses from the parties are published on the Congress website.

FROM THE AUSTRALIAN TODAY

PATRICIA KARVELAS From: The Australian  September 04, 2013 12:00AM

THE peak body representing Aborigines has criticised Tony Abbott for his lack of commitment to the organisation and failure to acknowledge the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, in an evaluation of the major parties that was sent to its members.

The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples questioned the major parties on their commitment to advancing the interests of Aborigines.

It says the ALP supported the UN declaration in April 2009, and in 2010 gave moral and financial support for the establishment of the congress, but “regrettably the ALP has yet to address the declaration to any meaningful extent”.

The congress said it was not aware of the Coalition having made any official announcements on the UN declaration or the rights of first peoples.

“The Coalition has not expressed support for representation and decision-making,” it said.

It noted that the Opposition Leader had instead made commitments to manage indigenous affairs from the portfolio of prime minister and cabinet, and to establish an indigenous advisory council headed by Warren Mundine. Mr Abbott had also pledged to spend time in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities as prime minister and this promise extended to his ministers.

They say that the Coalition says it will change the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 to accede to freedom of speech and remove legal remedy to racial vilification.

“No party has yet committed to the proposed reforms of the Constitution that were recommended by the expert panel, particularly to the reform to prevent laws that are racially discriminatory.

“The ALP and the Coalition remain focused upon intervention in the Northern Territory through the Stronger Futures laws despite strong concerns identified by the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights over breaches of Australia’s international human rights obligations under the race convention.

“The ALP has reinstated the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 to apply to the Stronger Futures laws but congress considers that this is not a sufficient response to end discriminatory provisions”.

On closing the gap they say the Coalition supports the continuing strategy but “it is unclear whether the Coalition would maintain or extend existing programs”.

They write that the ALP has made some changes to the Native Title Act 1993 during the last two terms of government, but “arguably not in ways that improve the return of lands, territories and resources to ownership and management by the First Peoples”.

“In particular, the ALP has not reversed the onus of proof, as has been widely recommended. The Coalition has made no commitment to increasing ownership of lands, territories and resources but Warren Mundine, who would chair a Coalition Indigenous advisory council, has flagged changes to Aboriginal statutory bodies including land councils, regional councils, homeland councils, and corporations”.

“None of the major parties have provided detailed proposals to advance the land rights aspirations of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples”.

They say the major parties are mostly silent on the cultural interests of the first peoples and offer no major policy developments or investments.

“By providing this overview to you, Congress does not seek to tell you how or whether to vote in the federal election. It is your decision. We hope that the information that we have provided adds to your understanding of the political landscape and gives you ideas as to how to influence the Parliament of Australia to respect the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples”.

CONGRESS PRESS RELEASE

5 key questions to political leaders

1.How will you work with Congress to ensure our legitimate role as a national representative body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is respected?

2.What measures will you take to ensure the rights and purposes set out in the

3.How will you support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to achieve self-determination?

4.What support will you provide Congress to fully participate in the development, implementation and monitoring of government laws, policies and programs, including through COAG?

5.What steps will you take to ensure that policies and strategies that affect us have the agreement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples

“We are not telling people how to vote or whether to vote in the federal election, and we have not endorsed any political party over another,” said Co-Chair Parker.

“Rather, Congress has provided our members with information to help them ask key questions of their local candidates in the federal election, draw their own conclusions about policies, and cast an informed vote on Saturday.

“Congress’ role is to promote and protect the identity and rights of the First Peoples, and this includes informing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples of election promises by the next Australian Government.

“We are pleased the major parties remain committed to achieving equality through ‘Closing the Gap’ strategies,” said Ms Parker.

“We applaud this approach to set targets and to measure performances.

“The parties accept close scrutiny and accountability against housing, education, employment and health goals, and Congress notes that the ALP and the Greens now also accept our proposal to incorporate justice targets in the strategies.

“But achieving equality in social indicators is only one of six priority areas.”

Co-Chair Malezer said the most important objective, from the view of Congress, is the commitment to implement in Australia the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“The Declaration upholds our right to self-determination and embodies the framework for development of Indigenous Peoples through community-based decision-making.

“Self-determination is essential, and our history in Australia proves centralised and unrepresentative government in Canberra cannot succeed, no matter how many advisors exist.

“Congress remains concerned that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples are still harmed through racism at the individual and institutional levels.

“Constitutional reform to prohibit racism is recommended by Congress but the parties remain vague on the details for Constitutional reform.

“It is important that Congress members and our supporters are well informed and motivated about the important Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policies of the next Australian government.

“We believe the performances during this election period are not up to the standard we deserve and should expect in this land,” said Mr Malezer.

The five questions are contained in the document: ‘Rights, Respect and Recognition: Congress’ Expectations of Australia’s Political Leadership’ and can be downloaded from nationalcongress.com.au

ENDS.

NACCHO political news: How will our NACCHO members survive a change of government?

Ross river 2013 110

“Both major parties say they are committed to Aboriginal health care – the NGO’s major activity – but until the dollar numbers are made public, there’s a question mark over the size of their commitment.

There are something like 15 health providers. This is ridiculous. We need to be working in partnership. I don’t give a hoot who gets the kudos out of that, as long as the outcomes for our clients is better.” Des Rogers

Des Rogers pictured above left with Dr Mark Wenitong and Kevin from Jimmy Little Foundation making recommendations at a recent Male health summit.

The wish list of the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, for whomever will gain power in Canberra, contains not what it wants to get, but what it doesn’t want taken away.

From Erwin Chlanda SUBSCRIBE HERE  Alice Springs News

In a swirl of rumored spending cuts, where will the money come from to drive the NGO’s newly chosen direction?

It is 40 years old, has a budget of $38m a year, for both town and “auspiced” services. More than 70% comes from the Feds. Congress has 300 employees, half of them Aboriginal. It has a new chairman (William Tilmouth), a new CEO (Donna Ah Chee) and a new Deputy CEO

The NGO has emerged from the bunker where the previous regime resided, until it got its marching orders after a string of scandals and a Federal review.

Both major parties say they are committed to Aboriginal health care – the NGO’s major activity – but until the dollar numbers are made public, there’s a question mark over the size of their commitment.

Congress now wants to go further, earning back a place in town it occupied decades ago, not only as the voice of Aboriginal people, but engaging with the broad community and economy.

On the health scene, care for children from conception to age four is a key part of the main mission, in tandem with an attack on domestic violence where the facts are horrendous, mostly “Aboriginal male violence on Aboriginal women,” says Mr Rogers.

“You only need to go to the hospital emergency department, or sit in the mall, and you’ll see young and old Aboriginal women who are bruised, battered and in some cases disabled because of violence.

“Because of customs, kinship and cultural law, particularly Aboriginal women on a community attract violence. They either end up dead or they walk into the desert and end up dead. We’ve got to do something about that.

“There are plenty of Aboriginal men who would love to stand up for Aboriginal women but they don’t get the opportunity.”

Mr Rogers quotes some figures from the Justice Department: mothers of NT children are 48 times more likely to be admitted to hospital for reasons of assault than all Australian women.

In 2009/10, more than 840 Aboriginal women had assault-related admissions to hospital in the NT, compared with 27 “other” women. In the year ending June 2012, the rate of “assault offences” recorded in Alice Springs was nearly six per 100 people (almost double the NT average). 68% of domestic violence is alcohol related. The rate of domestic violence assaults is 98% greater than the NT average.

Aboriginal women in the NT are 80 times more likely than other Australian women to be hospitalised as a result of assault.

But the news is not all bad, says Mr Rogers: “In the NT, in terms of Aboriginal health improvement, there has been a 30% decline in the all-cause mortality rate over the last decade or so, and we want to build on what is working, and not throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

Congress has a major clinic, open seven days a week; a male health unit, family partnership program, birthing centre and other programs. It has spread beyond the town limits, “auspicing” five bush clinics at Amoonguna, Santa Theresa, Areyonga, Hermannsburg and Mutitjulu.

Congress is seeking Aboriginal Benefits Account money for a truck carrying three small offices on the back for doctors, paramedics or social workers, which will do the rounds of communities, spending several weeks in each one, as long as it takes, finding out from the locals what their issues and concerns are.

“It could be alcohol, suicide, violence,” says Mr Rogers. “We’ll let the community come to us, encourage them through activities, kids, women, fellas.

“Then we would encourage other agencies which have the expertise to come out and talk to the community. It’s grassroots stuff. You might say it’s an Aboriginal problem. In fact it affects all of us, the town, the economy.”

Mr Rogers, currently on three months’ probation but willing to serve Congress for five years, says he has never been on the dole, has run a produce business for 13 years, “trained, employed and mentored more than 200 Aboriginal people” most of whom “went on to bigger and better things”.

He says some of his employees left because they didn’t like the hours – 4am starts: “On the Mondays, during footy season, I employed backpackers,” he says. “You needed to be flexible as an employer.”

He was briefly a town council alderman, and the Labor Party candidate last year in the NT seat of Namatjira. He’s had a hand in several other businesses, including hospitality and security services.

Mr Rogers spoke with Alice Springs News Online editor ERWIN CHLANDA.

NEWS: What about self-help to end the blight of welfare dependency? Drinking, not taking children to school, not feeding them properly – isn’t all of this up to the individual, or the community?

ROGERS: Yes and no. The main problem with Aboriginal children is neglect. It’s not deliberate neglect. It’s partly because young mothers and families don’t know how to look after young people, it is partly due to addictions and other mental health conditions and it is partly due to the often very adverse social environment that parents are trying to raise their children in. It is also a lack of knowledge caused by low levels of education.

A couple of my daughters are foster carers. Young babies, one or two years old, they certainly know what a straw is but you try to bottle feed them and they have never been bottle fed.

NEWS: How can that be changed?

ROGERS: It’s about education. We can blame us mob for everything – we drink and we fight and we argue, we smell and we’re untidy, we don’t want to be part of society. My view has been for a long time that it’s the system that has created that.

If you sit under that tree over there, regardless of what colour you are, and all the service providers come to you – as hard as it is to comprehend – you accept that as normal behaviour. And the media perpetuate that.

I’ve had a fortunate life, in a sense. I was sent to school down south, to Gawler, north of Adelaide. They were establishing Elizabeth at that time, for “ten pound Poms”. You go back there today, and you see four generations of welfare recipients.  And I would strongly suggest that if you went to any major city in this country, you would find suburbs with welfare recipients.

The media is quite quick to point the finger of blame at the blackfellas, look how lazy they are, ripping off the welfare system. But the system has created that, nationally.

NEWS: Isn’t this the litany we’ve heard for decades? Should the dole be withdrawn for people not reasonably accepting employment offered?

ROGERS: It’s hard when your mum and dad have never worked, your grandparents have never worked. As a welfare recipient – going back to Elizabeth, you learn to manipulate the system.

But the days of sitting on your bum and having all the services come to you are over. We’re not going to come and wake you up in the morning. But we can demonstrate we are a good employer, we have a good process in place, you show potential and we’ll mentor you into senior positions. I think that’s a great outcome.

NEWS: Could that be exported to other companies?

ROGERS: Yes, it can.

NEWS: Is such a process under way? Are you in touch with the Chamber of Commerce, for example?

ROGERS: I must say, no.

NEWS: This is the number one question today: How do you put an end to passive welfare, the issue often spoken of by Noel Pearson?

ROGERS: Sitting under that tree – if you start to withdraw some of those services, for example, the doctor and nurses, then I’ll have to get off my bum and go and see them.

What that does is instil a bit of responsibility. And I think that’s what we have to do, change the system, change the mentality. The Toyota dreaming – whitefellas coming in and out every day, yet making very little difference.

NEWS: How do you translate that into reality?

ROGERS: In this organisation, through the cross-cultural awareness program for staff.

NEWS: But these are people who have a job. What about the recipients of Congress services, how can they be motivated to help themselves?

ROGERS: Pre-birth to four, these are the formative years in terms of the development of responsibility and initiative, no matter what colour you are. We’ve got a number of generations out there who, to be honest, are a bit of a lost cause. And I’m not saying we should forget about them.

Congress does a whole bunch of stuff but we can drill it down to basically three things: we look after the elderly, we try to help the sick, and the other thing we do is preventative care. And it’s that which in the next couple of generations will make the difference. Give people a healthy upbringing then they can make choices.

NEWS: How grave is your fear that funding cuts will affect Congress work?

ROGERS: Taxation revenue is now less than 22% of GDP which is almost the lowest in the OECD and both sides want to reduce taxes further although the Coalition is planning bigger cuts than the ALP in this regard. Where is the money going to come from?

NEWS: Can the funding be streamlined?

ROGERS: There are something like 15 health providers. This is ridiculous. We need to be working in partnership. I don’t give a hoot who gets the kudos out of that, as long as the outcomes for our clients is better.

We are adopting the “collective impact” model, promoted here by Desert Knowledge here but in use world-wide now. It is about everyone working together. Here in Alice Springs, perhaps because of the funding models, we’ve had everyone working in parallel, especially Aboriginal organisations, diving into the same bucket, trying to get hold of the same money, being possessive about that as well, but serving the same clients.

That’s changing. For example, the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs is changing their funding model from something like 100 different funding contracts down to six. That alone is fantastic. Congress is currently dealing with some 160 projects with a string of agencies, this will cut down on a mountain of paperwork.

NEWS: Are there too many NGOs?

ROGERS: It’s up to the government. It’s a question of compliance. Are NGOs actually spending the money they get appropriately and effectively?

NEWS: How do they decide what’s working and what’s not?

ROGERS: We have an open book policy with our funding providers, and I think that needs to occur. If we get money for a specific program and we see it’s not working, we want to have the ability to say to the funding agency, we think you need to change the parameters, because we can get better results by doing it this way.

Congress is very good at presenting evidence data, we can back our outcomes or outputs with evidence. There are problems when funding agencies allow their money to be spent willy nilly. The Office for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health, which is part of the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing, have been very good with us. We have built a very good, honest, open relationship with them.

NEWS: What are the job opportunities right now? There used to be a cattle industry on what is now Aboriginal land, there are wild horses, camels, lots of land, idle labour and enough water. Road trains are going empty one way and could provide cheap transport of produce to markets. Should Congress develop some of these opportunities? Congress is picking up where people are already damaged. Is there not a case for that damage to be prevented?

ROGERS: Primary production has been tried here in the past but it has failed because it is a foreign industry, so to speak. We are hunters and gatherers. Where do you start? Is it housing, is it education? I’ve had a long time to think about this, and I think it starts from a health perspective. If you are a healthy child, regardless of your race, the other things will come.

NEWS: Could primary health care not include having a purpose in life, a job?

ROGERS: We are the largest primary health care provider in the NT but we’re not going to be able to fix all the problems.

NEWS: What changes is Congress making to its structure?

ROGERS: We now require people with tertiary qualifications to be in the top positions, not appointing Aboriginal people into management positions, irrespective of qualification, as a report 20 years ago recommended.

Unfortunately, that set some Aboriginal people up to fail. We are mentoring Aboriginal people into management roles. This is big business, and needs to be treated like big business.

IMAGES from the Congress annual report 2010-11, as published on the World Wide Web.