The ABC reported on March 3 that the Moort Boodjari Mia Aboriginal maternity centre in Midland, Perth, part of the North Metropolitan Health Service, is expected to close in June due to lack of funding.
The centre provides antenatal and postnatal clinical care, guidance, support and education to pregnant Aboriginal women and their families. A team of health professionals works with each woman during her pregnancy and for four weeks after the birth. Since opening in 2011, it has cared for hundreds of families.
The achievements of the centre in its first five years of operation are already impressive: a 70% increase in appointment attendance, as well as a marked decline in cigarette, alcohol and illicit drug consumption during pregnancy by the mothers who attend the clinic. In that five-year period, the centre has also won two national health industry awards for its innovative work.
None of this has been enough to convince the state and federal government to continue to support the service.
Dr Jennifer Dodd, who works at Moort Boodjari Mia, is part of the campaign to stop the closure of the centre: "I don't understand why the government doesn't fly a flag, to say, look at us, we are doing an Aboriginal-led, safe, maternity care service. It should be an example to the rest of the nation."
Federal minister for Aboriginal health Fiona Nash officially agrees that culturally-based health care services are essential for Aboriginal people: “It's very important that culture is central to health services. One of the things that is very clear is that Indigenous people need culturally appropriate service delivery. They need to feel safe, they need to feel that it's appropriate, and that's the best way we can get better outcomes.”
Moort Boodjari Mia was established as part of the government's “Close the Gap” initiative, but five years after opening, federal and state governments are pulling the plug on it, citing budget restrictions. The federal government intends to cut $535.4 million from Aboriginal services over the next five years, including $160 million from Aboriginal health, all while repeating the mantra of commitment to “closing the gap”.
In Western Australia, which until recently benefitted from the immensely profitable mining boom, the same excuses of budget constraints are being pedalled by the Colin Barnett government to force the closure of up to 150 remote Aboriginal communities across the state.
This action by the Barnett government has provoked widespread condemnation and protest here and abroad by Aboriginal people, civil society organisations and the broader community.
As well as the deep cultural, spiritual and social harm such closures would entail, it has also been pointed out that supporting these communities would be more cost effective than shutting them down. Despite countless promises to improve the situation in these communities, many essential services are non-existent or remain woefully inadequate, contributing to the health decline and social disadvantage many Aboriginal people continue to experience today.
Despite the rhetoric of “closing the gap”, the actions of the state and federal governments reflect a business-as-usual approach, neglecting to provide services and even shutting down those that people fought long and hard to establish.
Well-funded and culturally appropriate health and community services are urgently needed to improve the quality of life of Aboriginal people. This can only be achieved through a meaningful engagement with communities and elders, a process where decisions are made through collaboration, not from the top as we see now.
Services like Moort Boodjari Mia are making a big difference to the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal mothers and babies. That in itself is enough reason to fight to keep it open.