When you listen, you get better results - it's that simple

Read Assistant Minister McBride's opinion piece published in the Daily Advertiser

The Hon Emma McBride MP
Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention
Assistant Minister Rural and Regional Health

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When you listen, you get better results. It's that simple.

It is what health professionals do every day, in the pharmacy dispensary, in the clinic treatment room, at the bedside. It's what I did as a hospital pharmacist in a regional hospital for nearly a decade.

If we don't ask, and we don't properly listen, how can we possibly understand the situation?

Here in the Riverina an innovative program is boosting the rates of breastfeeding among Indigenous women. The project is led by Aboriginal people and improving infant health.

Breastfeeding for the first few months of a child's life is recommended to give infants the best start in life: it supports early child development, reduces the risk of illness and death in the early years and reduces the risk of unhealthy weight in childhood and later life.

Breastfeeding among First Nations women is consistently lower than the rest of the Australian population.

The project is developing lactation training designed by First Nations women for First Nations women. It is fostering an environment where mothers feel safe and understood.

The project is a small-scale but meaningful example of the kind of progress that listening can make towards closing the gap.

It is the same kind of listening that can come from a Voice to Parliament.

Imagine what we could achieve on a national scale if we had the advice of a Voice to get better value for money, improve health care and save lives.

This is exactly what we need to close the gap, because despite the best of intentions and significant investment in health care, what we have been doing has not worked.

Too many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are being left behind, with higher rates of infant mortality, higher rates of chronic disease and shorter life expectancy.

Take rheumatic heart disease - a debilitating and often fatal condition that damages heart valves, lining and muscle that can lead to heart failure.

It begins as a common strep A infection that when left untreated leads to acute rheumatic fever, the precursor to rheumatic heart disease.

The disease has been eliminated in non-Indigenous Australians for decades, and yet about six First Nations people die from the disease every month.

It is a disease of poverty, the result of overcrowding, a lack of access to hot water and running showers, and inadequate healthcare.

More than 7000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live with acute rheumatic fever or rheumatic heart disease, with the rates far higher for those living in rural and remote communities.

There is no cure, it can only be treated with regular injections of penicillin. It is an avoidable disease that we have been unable to prevent.

For First Nations Australians living in rural and remote communities, rheumatic heart disease is a part of life, but it doesn't have to be. What is clear is that we need a new approach.

When we go to the polls in just over a week, we will have a choice between two options.

Voting 'no' vote will mean more of the same, no plan, no way of making things better.

Voting 'yes' is about solutions, getting better results and bringing our country together.

On Saturday, October 14, we will have a once-in-a-generation chance to bring our country together and change it for the better.

This opinion piece was published in The Daily Advertiser on Thursday, 5 October 2023.

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