The WA government refused to publicly release an independent report recommending continued funding to Aboriginal health, and then used it to justify a 50 per cent funding cut to Aboriginal health programmes.
That’s according to WA Greens Senator Rachel Siewert, who today condemned the state government for being “irresponsible” in the savage slashes to Aboriginal health.
The report by Emeritus Professor D’Arcy Holman was called “A Promising Future: WA Aboriginal Health Programs” and was labelled the “Holman Review” by the state government.
It reviewed all programs under the government’s Footprints to Better Health Strategy, which combined the Closing the Gap (CTG) in Aboriginal Health and Indigenous Early Childhood Development (IECP) programs.
The government promised $30.3 million to deliver the strategy last year.
But earlier this month, the state Health Minister Kim Hames refused to reveal whether the report would be publicly available after questioned in Parliament by Greens MLA Robin Chappell.
Dr Hames said the department was considering the report in the state budget process.
That budget was handed down later in May, and slashed the Footprints to Better Health strategy by nearly half – from $30 million to $16 million.
The state’s peak Aboriginal health body, the Aboriginal Health Council of WA (AHCWA), was “shocked” and called for answers about where the cuts would be felt.
“This budget shortfall has come as a complete shock and we need the government to explain the situation urgently and assure us that it is not going to cut core funding,” Chair Michelle Nelson-Cox said.
Dr Hames told Parliament earlier this month that the Holman review had informed the budget process.
“This review went through all the programs that are provided under the Footprints for Better Health banner… in the order of $30 odd million. It found a range of successes and outcomes,” Dr Hames told Parliament.
“… To fund a rage of programs that were listed as high quality and very good. Another range of programs were listed as good and others as poor. In total, 88 per cent of the programs were listed as either very good or good. The funding that I received through the Treasury process only funded the programs that were listed as very good.
“In effect that halves the funding available for this programs.”
But Senator Siewert has cast doubt on the government’s claims, stating a leaked copy of the Holman Review recommended sustained funding to programs would help achieve aims to close the gap.
“The report, which the state government failed to release explicitly says that the WA Aboriginal health sector is poised to make strides in closing life expectancy provided that commitment and funding can be sustained,” Senator Siewert said.
“It is no wonder the government didn’t want to release it.”
Senator Siewert said the state had showed a “remarkable disinterest” in closing the gap,” while “brazenly using this report to justify slashing Aboriginal run medical services from $30 million to less than $16 million”.
It is “offensive and counterproductive,” Senator Siewert said.
Dr Hames told Parliament earlier this month his department would look at diverting funds from other programs in the Department of Health to fund the 88 per cent of programs listed as good or very good.
“We will increase that funding out of our own resources so that we are able to fund the full 88 per cent of programs that the Holman review listed as either very good or good. Funding will not continue for the remaining 12 per cent that were listed as marginal or poor,” Dr Hames said.
But AHCWA wants to know where the cuts will hit, and whether it will affect primary health services.
“While we welcome news that this strategy is likely to be funded, what we are very concerned about is where in the health budget this money is going to come from,” Ms Nelson-Cox said.
“We hope that this is not an exercise in robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
Senator Siewert said Aboriginal people in Western Australia deserve better, particularly following the state’s plans to close down up to 150 remote Aboriginal communities.
“Aboriginal people in Western Australia do not deserve to be thrown into disarray, especially when life expectancy between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in WA is the largest gap found in any Australian jurisdiction, exceeding the Northern Territory.
“To genuinely Close the Gap, as outlined in the report, there needs to be huge improvements in education, employment and wealth; this can only be achieved with good health.”
New Matilda is still waiting on comment from Dr Hames’ office about whether the report will be released publicly.
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