Talking notes - Senator for the Northern Territory, Nova Peris, AMA release of Women's Health Position Statement

5 Mar 2014

Please find attached the Senator for the Northern Territory, Nova Peris's speaking notes for the release of the AMA Position Statement on Women's Health.

Senator Nova Peris OAM

AMA Women’s Health Policy Launch – 5 March 2014

I acknowledge the traditional owners, the Ngambri and the Ngunnawal people on whose country we meet today. I pay my respects to my elders, past and present, and to our future leaders.

I thank the Australian Medical Association and their President Dr Steve Hambleton for inviting me to help launch the AMA’s National Women’s Health Policy – and I’d like to also acknowledge my fellow parliamentarian, Senator the Honourable Michaelia Cash.

I want to start by pointing out that in the Northern Territory an indigenous woman is 80 times more likely to be hospitalised for assault than other Territorians.

80 times more likely.

I shudder inside whenever I quote that fact because it makes me picture the batted and bloodied women we see far too often in our hospitals.

Every single night our emergency departments in the Northern Territory overflow with women who have been bashed.

But although I shudder, it is a fact that I want every Australian to know. It is a fact that no Australian should accept.

And tragically it is getting worse. In 2013, Domestic Violence assaults increased in the Northern Territory by 22 per cent.

Of course there are many areas of women’s health and aboriginal women’s health that need more attention and focus. But stopping this violence is currently my primary focus.

One of the most alarming facts about these horrendous statistics is that so much of it is preventable – and that’s because so much of it is caused by alcohol abuse

In August 2012 the incoming Northern Territory Government scrapped the Banned Drinker Register.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the Banned Drinker Register, or BDR as it is also known, it was an electronic identification system which was rolled out across the Northern Territory. This system prevented anyone with court ordered bans from purchasing take away alcohol - including people with a history of domestic violence.

Around twenty-five hundred people were on the Banned Drinker Register when it was scrapped. Domestic Violence perpetrators were again free to buy as much alcohol as they liked.

As predicted by police, lawyers and doctors, domestic violence rates soared.

Alcohol violence has soared. The Banned Drinker Register was in place for 14 months. Alcohol related emergency department admissions to Northern Territory hospitals increased by 80% in the 14 months since it was scrapped.

An 80% increase in alcohol related emergency department admissions is an extraordinary figure and one that we as a nation should not accept.

I have met with doctors, nurses and staff from the Emergency Department in Alice Springs and they confirm these statistics represent the true predicament they face day in day out on the front lines. Every night the place is awash with the victims of alcohol fuelled violence with the vast majority of victims being women.

The human toll is crushing but the financial toll is also enormous. Millions of dollars of extra funding has been expended in an effort to cope with the influx into our emergency departments. Millions of dollars’ worth of funding that could have been spent elsewhere on alternative health priorities that are so desperately in need of funding.

So I welcome that AMA’s women health policy states that ‘family and domestic violence is an area that is under-addressed and warrants an increased policy focus and high quality service provision.’ I completely agree.

I call on the AMA to use their extremely high standing in the community to advocate for more action in tackling alcohol related domestic violence.

Today I call on the AMA to formally adopt a policy position that supports the principle that people who have committed alcohol related domestic violence be banned from purchasing alcohol at the point of sale.

The technology to implement point of sale bans exists; it is cost effective and has been proven to work.

As I mentioned there are many other areas of concern in women’s health; but fortunately it’s not all doom and gloom.

We’ve seen an increase in the life expectancy of Aboriginal women.

As a direct result of significant investment into regional dialysis services, there has been an increase in the life expectancy of renal patients.

Overall there has only been a small improvement across the nation in closing the life expectancy gap for Aboriginal people. However, simply looking at averages across the nation does not tell the story of significant improvement in Aboriginal life expectancy rates in the Northern Territory.

The NT is the only jurisdiction currently on track to close the gap by 2031. This achievement is largely due the result of governments working together in genuine partnership with Aboriginal community-controlled health services and investing new funds where they are most needed. This is strong evidence that the significant investment in the NT, especially the investment in Aboriginal primary health care, is working.

While this is certainly good news, we still have a long way to go and I am very concerned that some of the gains we have made may be lost.

The Northern Territory faces enormous issues with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. We have such high rates of Sexually Transmitted Infections, especially and tragically, with children. Rates of smoking are far too high, and diets are poor and heart disease is widespread.

So we face enormous challenges. But I don’t believe we can make significant headway in tackling these issues until we address alcohol abuse and alcohol fuelled domestic violence. It is just not possible to explain to someone who is constantly getting bashed that they need to improve their diet.

Their dire current situation makes long term healthy lifestyle options seem a little pointless.

As I have said tackling alcohol abuse requires an urgent response to stop the violence today, not tomorrow. Our sisters, our aunties, our mothers, our fellow women need us to take action right now.

But in the long term, to affect real change, I believe that the biggest long term health initiative in the Northern Territory and many other part of Australia is improving access to and quality of education.

We will not have improved health outcomes without first having improved education outcomes.

We have seen some improvements in indigenous education but the improvement is not uniform and much more needs to be done in remote communities across the NT.

Both sides of politics have agreed on a new Closing the Gap target on school attendance. Attendance at school is critical, but unless children have entered school without the developmental capacity to learn and do well then attendance alone will not be sufficient to address the gap in educational and employment outcomes.

We need improvements before children reach school age. We need to close the gap in the Australian Early Development Index scores of children aged five years, as this is the key to closing the gap in both school attendance and successful educational outcomes.

An entire generation of aboriginal Australians have missed out on a proper education. No matter where an Australian child is born, it

is imperative that they have the same educational opportunities as children living in the city.

Not just an academic education - but a life skills education.

This is one of the most fundamental issues which drives me as a politician.

I thank the AMA for inviting me here today, and I wish to finish where I began. In the Northern Territory an Aboriginal women is 80 times more likely to be hospitalised for assault than the rest of the population.

Let’s stop the Rivers of Grog. Let’s stop the violence. It can be prevented. The evidence is clear. Let’s take action now. We CAN do it, together.

Thank you.

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