Aboriginal-controlled health clinics must be quarantined from federal budget cuts otherwise their strong gains in closing the health gap will be put at risk, an indigenous leader warns.
National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) chair Justin Mohamed says indigenous-run clinics are easing pressure on the mainstream health system.
He pleaded for governments to protect the 150 Aboriginal-controlled health organisations from budget cuts as they are making inroads on preventative health measures such as reducing smoking rates.
“We all know that a dollar spent in prevention can save two or three down the track by avoiding emergency or hospital-based care,” he told the National Press Club on Wednesday.
Demand for the services is growing at six per cent a year because they combine “clinical know-how with culturally enriched local knowledge”.
They provide economic, education and employment benefits, in addition to quality health care and employ 3500 Aboriginal people out of a total workforce of 5500, he said.
Improving health outcomes had to go hand-in-hand with workplace and education participation.
“People who are ill can’t participate in the labour force … and children who are sick cannot participate in schools,” he said.
Mr Mohamed said some Aboriginal health workers suffered institutionalised racism in the mainstream system but were flourishing in the Aboriginal-controlled clinics.
He lamented the amount of red tape they contended with – producing 423 reports annually.
“Imagine how many more Aboriginal people could be treated if the time taken to produce those reports was actually spent on child and maternal health programs and adult health checks,” Mr Mohamed said.
Mr Mohamed urged Prime Minister Tony Abbott to revive a now-expired national partnership agreement on indigenous health with the states and territories.
There is an economic incentive for all governments to help indigenous people become healthier, he said.
There is a life expectancy gap – of 10.6 years for men and 9.5 years for women – between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.
Raising life expectancy over 20 years would result in a $11.9 billion net increase in government revenue, mainly from tax payments, including a $4.7 billion saving in social security and health.
The Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council is looking at what fat can be trimmed from federal government spending on Aboriginal programs.
Earlier on Wednesday, the chairman of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council, Warren Mundine, said money matters were on the agenda at the council’s meeting in Sydney with Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion.
He urged the Abbott government to quarantine indigenous mental health, healing and anti-smoking programs from possible cuts.