Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care, doorstop - 8 September 2023

Read the transcript of Assistant Minister Kearney's doorstop on Doctors for Yes letter.

The Hon Ged Kearney MP
Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care

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Dr Adam Steinberg: Doctors for YES is a grassroots campaign by individual doctors designed to complement the advocacy being performed by the peak representative bodies to bring healthcare into the discussion around the upcoming referendum. These are individual doctors who cover all specialties from all across Australia - every state and territory. These are doctors you see in your GP clinic, in the emergency department, when you come into the labour wards have your baby. These are doctors who have worked in community who've seen the stark inequity, who believe that recognition is an important part of the journey of self-determination and self-determination leads to better health for communities.

 

From my perspective as a kidney doctor, First Nations people have the highest rates of chronic kidney disease - they're twice as more likely to have CKD, they're four times more likely to die from it. About 25% of people who live in the Northern Territory are First Nations but they occupy 90% of the dialysis chairs. There is significant disparity and delay in which patients access dialysis and access transplantation. The status quo is not tenable. These health outcomes are not acceptable. Fundamental medicine is listening to our patients advocating for them and being there in their moment of need. Community leaders have repeatedly highlighted the links between improved health and the right to self-determination. Equity in health will only be achieved when First Nations people have greater agency over health policy initiatives and frameworks that affect them. Caring for patients relies on listening with empathy and responding accordingly. We will be responding by voting YES, on October 14.

 

Dr Glenn Harrison: I'm Glenn Harrison, I'm in an emergency position here at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, and am a Wotjobaluk Aboriginal man. I'm voting YES for the referendum, and I think the reasons for me are that I've got lived experience - my family, my ancestors, about, you know, disproportionate effects of health, you know, within my own community. And I think, you know, the referendum has two points for me that are fair and reasonable, and I think if you think it's fairly reasonable that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people recognised as the First Nations people in this country, then you should vote YES.

 

Number two, the referendum will also ask about a voice, and I think if you think it's fair and reasonable that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders will have a voice to Parliament to actually help influence and improve processes within government and our executive about processes, policies and legislation. If you think that's fair and reasonable to have a voice then vote YES. The lived experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, where we have a disproportionate representation in health across all outcomes of health. But [we] also have great outcomes where we've actually got a voice and people listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders - the immunisation rates is one of the highest rates in Australia [that is] amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and the COVID response is one of the best in the country with lives saved just because we actually listened to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. So, I implore people to have an informed choice and make a decision about whether you want to vote yes or no, but you have an opportunity to make a difference for generations of Australians and make our country actually better for everyone in this country. Thank you very much.

 

Dr Catherine Pendrey: Hello, my name is Dr. Catherine Penry. And I've spent over five years working as a general practitioner in remote communities in the Northern Territory. My experience has shown me that only by supporting First Nations people to have a voice that we can achieve better health outcomes, from antenatal care to childhood vaccinations to diabetes management. I've seen firsthand that health interventions achieved better results. And we work in genuine partnership with First Nations communities. Supporting the voice is about giving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples greater say about the solutions that will improve health in their communities. As a GP, the main focus of what I do is empowering patients to achieve better health. This is a chance to do that at a national level. As a doctor, I see supporting the voice as part of my duty of care. It's about ensuring the policies that influence built from primary care to hospitals, to housing to employment, responsive to the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

 

Dr Anna Takács: Good morning, my name is Anna Takács and I work as a psychiatrist and I've got extensive experience in public mental health. Today I want to talk a little bit about mental health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In my experience, I know that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people suffer from much higher rates of mental ill health than non-Indigenous Australians. The research is extremely clear: there are higher rates of distress, of suicide and self-harm, and lower levels of social and emotional wellbeing. But the evidence also shows that there are ways to fix this and that we can create better systems and more effective services when we consult deeply, and listen carefully, to the lived experience and expertise of the people that we are designing these systems for. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have unique and cultural ways of knowing, being and doing. In the creation of our mental health systems, these ways have often been overly looked despite best intentions. But we know that there is no substitute to consulting deeply with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, because we will create systems and services that deliver the care that they need.

 

I believe strongly in recognising the first peoples of Australia in the Constitution. I believe that an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament will result in better health outcomes, and better social emotional wellbeing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the nation. Voting YES is important to me because I believe it is a step towards signifying empowerment, and a voice for many people and I believe this is essential as well to improving mental health. Thank you.

 

Dr Mick Creati: Good morning. My name is Mick Creati, I'm a paediatrician. I've worked in the Aboriginal community-controlled health sector for 10 years, and [worked] before that in the youth justice system. We know that Aboriginal children in this country are removed at many times the rate of non-Aboriginal children from their families. In Victoria, Aboriginal children are removed at 23 times the rate of non-Aboriginal children from their parents. I've spoken to mothers who are the first women in four generations to keep their children. This cannot continue. And unless we unless we listen to the voices of Aboriginal people, we will keep coming up with the wrong solutions. I am voting YES because there is no other way to stop this problem.

 

Dr Alyce Wilson: Hello, my name is Dr Alyce Wilson - I'm a public health physician and I'm voting YES. I work in Gippsland on Gunaikurnai Country. Giving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people a voice in identifying health priorities and health policies and programs makes sense. We know that when we listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and they have a voice and we listen to this voice, health policies and programs are more relevant, safe, effective, and meet the community's needs leading to improved health outcomes.

 

We have ample evidence from the Aboriginal community-controlled sector that when health services are provided by the community, for the community, these services work and they improve health outcomes. The same will be true for a voice to Parliament. Early in the COVID pandemic a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander advisory group prepared and delivered several key actions to reduce the risk of COVID to Indigenous peoples, their families and their communities. The results were outstanding. In the first year of the pandemic, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experienced six times fewer cases than the non-Indigenous population and no recorded deaths. This is a perfect example of how the best results are achieved when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a voice. Thank you.

 

Dr Nisha Khot: Hello, my name is Dr. Nisha Khot I'm an obstetrician-gynaecologist, which means that I look after pregnant women and newborn babies. We know that the evidence tells us that First Nations women are three times more likely to die in the process of childbirth and First Nations babies are one and a half to two times more likely to be born still or born pre-term. We know that in the last decades, we have not managed to change these rates at all, and the way to do that is by actually listening to what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people tell us, what they tell us works for them, what they tell us about working on country. I'll be voting YES.

 

I'm also a migrant woman and a recent Australian and I think it is really important for migrant people to recognise First Nations people of this country that we now call home. I look forward to a time when we can all move forward and improve health outcomes for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, thank you.

 

Noel Pearson: I'm so very pleased to be here with Ged Kearney and Doctors for YES. We've got two weeks to go on the referendum. We really need to answer the question: is it really conceivable that the Australian people will refuse to recognise the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who've been here for more than 60,000 years, who've called this country their home, can we really conceive that the Australian people would say no to that? I can't conceive of it. I don't believe it. I don't believe it's going to be possible. The hand of conciliation and friendship extended by Indigenous people at Uluru in 2017, which is the basis of this referendum, I cannot believe on October 14 Australians will reject the hand of friendship that was proferred. It's too tragic to contemplate that that would be a result.

 

This is our first best chance to get this right. It's been 15 years in the making. Every I has been dotted - we're ready to go. I'm so very pleased Doctors for YES, my metaphor was going to be 'have come out into the sunshine' but we're here in Melbourne after all, they've come out in the rain and they've declared their support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Theirs is probably one of the two most crucial supports we need when the Voice is established to close the gap on this.

 

Health is the driver. We need to get it right. We have the best health care professionals in the world in this country. We can do it, we've got the people to do it. I'm just urging everyone that, on October the 14th, let's put aside all of the misrepresentations and chatter about this provision - this is the right thing to do. It's our chance, in the words of the alteration we'll vote on, to say in recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first people of Australia. That's what we're doing.

 

Keep our eyes on the prize. Let's put in every concerted effort over the next 14 days until we vote on the 14th, and I believe a no vote will take us nowhere. A no vote will sink us in the depths of despair and lack of hope and direction. Whereas a YES vote will be good for the whole country. It'll be good for the no voters - a YES vote will be good for everyone in Australia, and I hope that on October the 14th the Australian people agree with me.

 

Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care Ged Kearney: Thanks very much, Noel, and thank you to all the wonderful doctors that are here with us today. Doctors for YES - it's absolutely amazing, and over 1000 doctors in this country have publicly stated their commitment to voting YES in the referendum. And we know that there are many, many more besides that, because we know that a voice to Parliament will be an advisory body that can advise the government on many things. But what can be more important, more important, than the health of First Nations people?

 

We know that there are many, many gaps when it comes to health outcomes for Indigenous people in this country. We've heard today from renal physicians, from a psychiatrist, from obstetrician and gynaecologist, from general practitioners, because we know the gaps for mums and their babies are unacceptable. We know the gaps when it comes to renal disease is unacceptable. For First Nations people with diabetes, with rheumatic heart disease, for kids with diseases that they should not have in a lucky country like Australia, but they are experiencing. Doctors and health professionals know that the best thing, the most important thing you can do for a patient, is to listen. To listen to them, to learn about their lives, to learn about their situations and to work out with them what is the best way to make them better, and to make them healthy, and to give them fulfilled, good, healthy lives. Doctors know about listening, and I know that Australian people will recognise that the best thing we can do right across the board is to listen. And that is all we are asking when we ask you to vote yes: is to listen. That is not hard, that is not complicated, that is what a Voice will mean: is that we will have an opportunity as a government to listen to First Nations people so that we can close those gaps that are unacceptable in a wealthy, lucky, wonderful country like Australia. So on October the 14th, the doctors of Australia today are asking you to vote yes, the amazing Noel Pearson is asking you to vote yes, I am asking you to vote yes, so that we can listen and make a difference. There's nothing more complicated about it than that.

 

Thank you very much to all the doctors that have placed their support. Thank you, Noel, and thank you for coming out on this wet day. And I know that on October the 14th, I'm going to be thanking all Australians when they go to that referendum and write YES, thanks very much.

 

Journalist: [question inaudible.]

 

Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care Ged Kearney: This referendum is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a huge difference for First Nations people - it will have practical outcomes, and the doctors here today are saying we will have practical outcomes for health and nothing is more important than mental health. We know that unfortunately, we heard from our psychiatrist friend today that our First Nations people experience severe mental health outcomes far more than non-Indigenous people, including double the rate of suicide. So I think that voting YES, will mean that we can listen to First Nations people and we can work on their mental health issues - these doctors are telling us that that will make a difference. The Australian Government has allocated some money, I think $10 million, to support First Nations people through the referendum process, and I encourage them to make sure that they can contact their health professionals and access health care when it comes to that. But we can't forget that the Voice, the very essence of what the Voice is about, is making things like mental health care for First Nations people better.

 

Journalist: [question inaudible.]

 

Dr Anna Takács: Thank you for the question. I'm not so familiar with that paper specifically, but yes, I am familiar with that research in general, and the evidence shows that 70% of respondents who were asked if they're experiencing greater distress leading up to the referendum said yes, they are. What do we know about what racism does to mental health? I see it every day, that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are deeply affected by racism that they experience - both face-to-face racism and racism that unfortunately exists in our systems and structures. Thank you.

 

Dr Glenn Harrison: So yeah, there is an increased risk of, you know, mental health and burnout and amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and I think it's really important that that's recognised and that there are avenues for people to actually seek help and seek some counselling. 13 YARN is a really important resource for people, there's also resources for Beyond Blue, for Victorian Aboriginal health services. So it's really important that it is recognised that there is increased stress amongst our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. There is assistance out there, and I think it's really important that people acknowledge that they are under stress and actually look to seek some help when it's appropriate. And because stress leads to, you know, decision making that maybe is unhealthy sometimes, leads to burnout and leads to reduced healthy outcomes and activities within your own community, and in interpersonal activities as well.

 

Journalist: How confident are you, we're two weeks out, how are you feeling about the communication… [inaudible]?

 

Noel Pearson: Well, we're at the halfway mark of the campaign. We have our work cut out for us, we've always been on the underdog in this race. With two weeks to go, Australian people have got a lot of time to ponder the question: will we finally recognise the fact that Australia has a pre-history stretching back 60 millennia? That Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were here long before the continental Europeans were capable of doing? Not just a adpption of history, it's an acceptance and recognition of history. I believe, that come October the 14th, we are very likely to see a YES vote.

 

There's a very quiet YES vote out there. We've been through every train station, every shopping mall, I've been forms of Sikh temples, and I've been in churches and schools and workplaces, and what I detect is that there's a very quiet YES vote there. People just come out of the woodwork and say, 'I'm voting YES'. So I don't think the, the, I'm interested in the poll on October the 14th. It's too long to go yet, two weeks. Absolutely, we have to keep our eyes on the prize, we have to keep pedalling, every day we have to get the message out to Australians that this is our one opportunity to get this right.

 

Journalist: What does it mean for you today standing alongside all these medical representatives who are pledging YES?

 

Noel Pearson: Well, absolutely, and then they're kind of representative of my experience, really. There's 1000s of Australians from many different walks of life who are telling our campaign 'we're voting yes'. To look at them, you wouldn't have any idea they were YES voters, most of them. I'm telling you that this message is going through to the hearts of Australians. I believe we're going to be surprised by the result. Anything less than YES is going to be such a heartbreak for the country. We will so long regret voting no, it'll be a disaster for us. We can avoid that disaster by doing the right thing on October the 14th.

 

Journalist: [question inaudible.]

 

Noel Pearson: Absolutely, they're our most trusted professionals in Australian life. That's why Doctors for YES is so important - it's a spontaneous gathering of a whole lot of doctors that have got the courage and, they've got the spirit, to support us in the campaign and to be open about their supporting the campaign. It's one thing, one thing, intending to vote on October the 14th for YES, it's another thing to come out and tell your friends, tell all your networks, that this is the stance you're taking. It's an important example to everyone else.

 

Journalist: What's your response to the AEC's emails today regarding some YES23 posters that were outside early voting polling booths?

 

Ged Kearney: Everybody should be aware of the rules and I understand that the AEC have been in touch with the relevant people, so we'll just await the outcome of that of that contact?

 

Journalist: Do you think it's misleading to use the AEC's colours, white lettering, right in front of AEC official signage, with the YES vote.

 

Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care Ged Kearney: I haven't actually seen the posters you're referring to, but I believe that they actually say 'VOTE YES', and it's very clear that they're part of the YES23 campaign. So let's see what comes out of that, I'm sure it will be sorted out.

 

Journalist: The AEC has said that they wanted to clarify to voters that this is definitely not AEC signage. Having a look at those, as, as it is, can you see where maybe confusion has arisen or how they may have been linked together?

 

Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care Ged Kearney: Well, the AEC has made contact with the relevant people about those things, so, and I do believe that everybody should be aware of the rules, so I hope that's going to be solved. Thank you.

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