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Malarndirri McCarthy says Aboriginal-controlled health organisations crucial to Closing the Gap

Dechlan Brennan -

Senator Malarndirri McCarthy has hailed Aboriginal Community-Controlled Health Organisations as essential partners in Closing the Gap.

Speaking to the WA Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Sector in Fremantle on Wednesday, the Yanyuwa senator said the government was committed to the sector, announcing three new four-chair renal dialysis units for two sites for the Pilbara Aboriginal Health Alliance in Tom Price and the Ngangganawili Aboriginal Health Service in Wiluna.

"We have to be able to roll out the care for our people on country, so that those are caught in places that they don't feel they belong, and they prefer to be back home on country, we have to see what we can do, to roll out those chairs in those places," she said.

"Cases of treated kidney failure are 6.9 times higher for First Nations people compared to non-Indigenous Australians."

Senator McCarthy said funding was also going to Purple House for a dialysis clinic in Balgo, whilst the government was also "looking at further sites later in the year."

The assistant minister for Indigenous Health also argued her government provided First Nations health infrastructure through realising their election commitments to a range of providers.

These included $4.7 million to Derbarl Yerrigan Health Service for a health clinic in Midland; over $900,000 to the Ngaanyatjarra Health Service for a solar power system; and another solar system, worth $322,000, to the Yura Yungi Medical Service in Halls Creek.

Overall, she told the crowd a total of 120 ACCHOs were being provided with rolling funding arrangements to help deliver health care under the Indigenous Australians' Health Programme.

The senator also highlighted the First Nations Health Worker Traineeship Program, run by the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO), which has seen 250 enrolments, and 40 completing it, since it was rolled out 18 months ago. These include trainees who have completed their qualifications at the Marr Mooditj Training Aboriginal Corporation and the Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services.

Speaking on ABC Afternoon Briefing, Senator McCarthy spoke in the context of domestic violence - which has become a political focal point over the last week, and which impacts First Nations women on a vastly disproportionate scale.

She said her speech at the conference was about highlighting the roll out of 500 health clinicians across Australia, but accepted: "We've seen it, we live it."

"I certainly am surrounded by it, in terms of the family members that I have and the experiences that I've gone through, the children that I raise as a result of family and domestic violence. I live it every day."

Asked if programs to increase doctors in remote communities was working, the NT Senator responded: "Absolutely."

"20 years ago, we perhaps had one Torres Strait Islander doctor. Now we have over 127 Torres Strait doctors across Australia," she said.

Asked if there was an expectation and responsibility for First Nations Doctors to go back to country and help the communities, as was suggested by some Elders in the Torres Strait this week, Senator McCarthy said it was about choice.

"For First Nations people, whether they're doctors, nurses, paediatricians, it is about the choice to be able to return home should they wish to do so or their ability to go where they feel they are needed," she said.

"What I've found listening to the Elders of the Torres Straits working with these Torres Strait doctors, was they were welcoming them home, would certainly love to see some of them return to the Torres Strait to work as doctors full time, but also conscious of the fact that we still need more resourcing to be able to do that.

"But I have no doubt that many of those doctors will be returning to the Torres Strait."

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