Ken Wyatt was appointed yesterday as the Minister for Aged Care and Indigenous Health after a cabinet reshuffle brought about by the resignation of Susan Ley.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says Mr Wyatt's previous experience as a bureaucrat within the Indigenous Health area makes him an ideal appointment to role.
Sol Bellear AM, Head of the Aboriginal Medical Service in Redfern, acknowledged Minister Wyatt’s long commitment to Indigenous health, but also recognised there is always room for improvement.
Mr Bellear told NITV News: "Aboriginal medical services have proved the longevity of Aboriginal people, so we need the bigger spread and more Aboriginal medical services probably in the next 5-10 years.
“We probably need another 100 to 150 Aboriginal medical services throughout the whole country, in cities and remote communities as well, so we'll be pressuring Ken to make available more funds for the establishment of Aboriginal Medical Services.”
The Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the Northern Territory (AMSANT) has also welcomed the appointment.
AMSANT’S Executive Officer, John Paterson, explained it’s extremely important the minister for Indigenous Health is Indigenous.
“It’s absolutely critical, we need people who understand our health and wellbeing and some of the important illnesses Aboriginal people get that say their non-Aboriginal counterparts don’t,” John Paterson said.
“We have every confidence in Minister Wyatt, he has the experiences, the necessary qualifications, and the contacts and understanding, particularly with his expertise and knowledge having worked in Indigenous health in his past career."
“He also knows a lot of leaders around the country and he knows where to get the correct information if he requires it, and we’re certainly willing, ready and able to help him if he requires it and calls upon us.”
These comments from the Indigenous medical community have not been lost on the first ever Indigenous Federal Minister, who has already called for a new approach to addressing the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Mr Wyatt says it will take a whole of government approach to create lasting change.
Mr Wyatt told the ABC: "There's this construct around Aboriginal health that is based on Aboriginal Community-controlled health services and organisations and specific programs that have been funded by the Commonwealth. But if we're truly serious, then what we should be doing is saying, ‘alright, how does the health sector, including all the ACCHOs then tackle this issue collectively to make sure that 800 thousand Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this country have their health conditions improved?... the levels of, and prevalence rates of certain illnesses, tackled in a way that sees a reduction?”
Lending a helping hand
AMSANT has been working on creating programs that tackle mental health issues, with a particular focus on intergenerational trauma.
Mr Paterson said he wants to meet with the minister as soon as possible, to present AMSANT’s research and get government support to start implementing the programs.
“We’ve done enough research, now it’s about implementation and action and that’s where we want to encourage governments,” he said.
“We have two experienced psychologists, one Indigenous psychologist, that have been working and looking at all different models overseas and internationally and we believe there are a couple of models that could be implemented in our Aboriginal communities here in our nation,” he said.
“There’s plenty of data and plenty of information, all we require is a willingness of governments and ministers to put the appropriate resources in that area.”
He added that tackling intergenerational trauma in communities could start to change the face of First Nations health entirely.
“You’ll see an increase in children’s attendance at school, their confidence, their general health and wellbeing, and you’ll see people having the confidence to approach issues that they may have been reserved or hesitant about in the past,” The Executive Officer said.
“This underlying trauma and stress that families have experienced because of whatever reasons you know - government policy back in the day, the stolen generation, the removal of kids, you know some families have never ever had some of those experiences treated,” he continued.
“And you can see it being played out now so we really need to focus and invest in some wrap around programs and the right counsellors and psychologists for those families and individuals that are experiencing this intergenerational trauma and stress.
“There is a way forward here and there is a process that can help tackle the underlying issues that many of us still face.”
Paterson said he also wants to talk to Minister Wyatt about ensuring specialist services are available in the NT, that Aboriginal Australians stop dying years earlier than their non-Aboriginal counterparts, and that preventative programs are implemented to tackle chronic diseases.