Janine Freeman MLALabor Member for Mirrabooka

Your local Labor MP

Barnett Government fails to act on key Aboriginal health legislation

Wednesday 02 Nov 2011

 

Labor's Shadow Minister for Health, Roger Cook said Health Minister Kim Hames promised in February this year the Public Health Bill would come to Parliament by the end of the year, but had now admitted it would not be introduced into Parliament until 2012.

 

"In Parliament today, Mr Hames admitted he did not regard the Bill as urgent and had not put it at the top of the Barnett Government's agenda," Mr Cook said.

 

"Improving public health in Aboriginal communities should be key focus for the Barnett Government and it has no excuse for its failure to introduce this Bill, as it was already drafted and has been subject to extensive community consultation."

Mr Cook said the Bill made a number of improvements to the out-dated Health Act, particularly through clauses that would mean Aboriginal communities on Crown land or land managed by Crown entities would be subject to important public health standards not currently in force.

"The Health Department's website said the current legislation, which is more than 100 years old, was 'ineffective at addressing Aboriginal environmental health issues and the exposure of Indigenous people to disparate conditions affecting health'," Mr Cook said.

"In 1997, the Aboriginal Lands Trust (ALT) was taken to court over its failure to provide running water and human waste removal, as required by the current Act. However, the Supreme Court ruled the ALT was not bound by the Act because it was a government body emanating from the WA Crown.

"Remote Aboriginal communities continue to be subject to poor community sewerage, lack of rubbish collection and problems with water supply, which contribute to poor health in these communities.

"These loopholes that have allowed environmental health standards to remain at third-world levels must be fixed as a matter of urgency."

Mr Cook said the legislation would:

    Promote public health and wellbeing and prevent disease, injury, disability and premature death;

    Protect individuals and communities from diseases and other public health risks and provide, to the extent reasonably  practicable, a healthy environment for all Western Australians;

    Inform individuals and communities about public health risks;

    Encourage individuals and their communities to plan for, create and maintain a healthy environment;

    Provide for the prevention or early detection of diseases and other public health risks;

    Support programs and campaigns intended to improve public health;

    Collect information about the incidence and prevalence of diseases and other public health risks to the State for research or public health purposes;

    Reduce the health inequalities in public health of disadvantaged communities; and

    Provide for functions relating to public health to be performed by the State and local governments.

"A number of these aspects would be extremely beneficial to the health of Western Australian Aboriginal communities," Mr Cook said.

"The Barnett Government has a Bill that is ready to be introduced to Parliament that would contribute to improving these conditions but has failed to make it a priority."