Tony Abbott, don’t close Aboriginal Medical Service

Issue 
The centre has more than 11,000 active patients, equivalent to half the Aboriginal population of Victoria

The Aboriginal Medical Service Western Sydney (AMSWS) is an Aboriginal community-controlled health service based in Mt Druitt. The federal government has decided to stop its $4 million annual funding from July 1 this year, effectively forcing it to close down.

AMSWS services the largest Aboriginal population in Australia. It has more than 11,000 active patients from greater Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains. Its closure will leave thousands of community members without access to essential services and put pressure on local hospital services and systems.

Anselm John Delaney is a Kamilaroi Elder. He wrote this open letter to Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Health Minister Sussan Ley in response to the closure.

* * *

The Aboriginal Medical Service Western Sydney (AMSWS) could become the latest victim of your government’s maniacal strategy to cripple the Aboriginal self-determination movement generally and where it concerns health in particular.

I describe the motivation as ideological because that is what it is. Your policies fly in the face of reason, of evidence and of human rights.

My ancestors told me to speak out and to speak out plainly. That is what I shall do in this open letter to you as the Prime Minister of Australia.

If AMSWS were a bank, a farming concern, a chocolate factory, a friend of the Liberal Party or a people smuggler, your government would simply “cough up”. But where the lives of Aboriginal people are concerned, your government puts ideology first and people second, much like the modus operandi that informs the actions of terrorists.

The AMSWS is an excellent organisation that has tried its best to deliver high quality services for almost 30 years and in my opinion it has succeeded in that aim. I am proof!

That is not just my opinion. It is shared by significant players in the health sector, in academia and above all in the Aboriginal Community. The pre-eminent view is that the AMSWS is a terrific organisation and it needs to be allowed to do its job.

The AMSWS board of directors provided departmental officers with a balanced proposal to remedy this unfortunate situation, given enough time without the threat of transitioning.
Prime Minister, $4 million is not a lot of money in the scheme of things. It is even less money when we consider it is an organisation with more than 11,000 active patients, equivalent to half the Aboriginal population of Victoria or South Australia. It is just under a quarter of the Aboriginal population of the Northern Territory.

The point is this: NSW has been grossly underfunded compared with other jurisdictions in relation to expenditure on Aboriginal health. In fact, expenditure figures can be accessed from the Department of Health, Australian Institute for Health and Welfare, as well as the 2014 Indigenous Expenditure Report, which clearly indicate extremely unfair variations.

Does that mean that Aboriginal people in NSW are less important than Aboriginal people elsewhere? Why should that be? Can we please have a bit of transparency on that question?

$4 million could be found in a flash if there was political will, but the real agenda appears to be to crush Aboriginal community control and our right of self-determination regardless of the consequences.

Let us call a spade a spade here: I can say categorically that as an 81-year-old Kamilaroi elder, the establishment of Aboriginal community-controlled medical services in Redfern in 1972 saved my life and allowed me to enjoy an active quality of life.

Prime Minister, Aboriginal people will die if the so-called “transitioning” option provided by two officers of the Commonwealth is put into effect. An esteemed colleague who is a doctor with more than 33 years of experience in Aboriginal health confirms this.

Bureaucrats and politicians will claim that such a view is without foundation, but we know what will happen because we were around when there were no Aboriginal Medical Services(AMS). None of the current bureaucrats nor any politicians can claim that experience or expertise. But our voices do not inform the policy process. It is as simple as that, Prime Minister.

Prior to the appointment of the Funds Administrator (FA), funds were on hold during the October to December period. The withholding of funds added to the burden. With the appointment of the FA, it took up to six weeks to put their systems in place.

In fact, the FA said when he first started in January this year: “I am surprised you only had the tax debt outstanding. Normally an organisation in this situation has multiple debts.”

Prime Minister, AMSWS is a terrific organisation with 96 competent staff, of whom 84% are Aboriginal and have undergone further education and training. If the government for whatever non-reason could not simply write a cheque for $4 million, surely a $4 million government loan could have been raised and perhaps the government could have contributed in part to the repayments.

Now, any prospect of a private loan appears in jeopardy: the government has actually undermined the commercial interests of the organisation. It would never do that to its friends in business.

The sad truth is that AMSs have had to put up with a mix of ideological posturing against Aboriginal community control, incoherent policy direction and inexpert, often vicious bureaucrats.

l respectfully seek an audience with you, Health Minister Sussan Ley and our local Member for Lindsay Fiona Scott, who has in the past declared her support for AMSWS.
Given the immediate circumstances l also ask that you treat this request as a matter of urgency.

Yours truly,
Anselm John Delaney
Kamilaroi Elder

You can sign a petition to the government asking them to give back the funding here.

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