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Minister brings forward health talks after voice veto

Alex Mitchell and Paul Osborne -

Indigenous leaders and health ministers will gather early in the new year to work on new ways to improve services.

Federal Health Minister Mark Butler said he and his state and territory colleagues, and Indigenous health representatives, were due to meet next in October 2024.

But Mr Butler said the failure of the Indigenous voice referendum had spurred him to bring the meeting forward and ensure the next step was "listening deeply".

"We're going to be talking locally and practically, and taking our time to listen deeply as we pursue our shared goal – equity," Mr Butler told the NACCHO conference in Perth on Wednesday.

"That means being clear sighted about all the institutional blocks to equity that First Nations people face in the health system."

The minister said the deaths of three women at Doomadgee from complications of rheumatic heart disease were a "yet another clarion call for health systems to work together better".

A Queensland coronial inquest found systemic failures contributed to the deaths, and made 19 recommendations for changes.

Mr Butler noted doctors working in major cities were likely never to see a case of rheumatic heart disease in their entire career.

But in remote Aboriginal communities there are some of the highest rates of rheumatic heart disease in the world.

The minister said he expected a soon-to-be-finalised review of the National Health Reform Agreement - a deal with the states on hospital funding - would make some strong recommendations on improving Indigenous health and working with local communities to design and implement services.

"Listening is the foundation of working together and by working together, we will be stronger."

Meanwhile, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar told a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra the 'no' campaign had fuelled racism and intolerance against Indigenous people.

"I have already heard reports of our children facing racism at school because of the outcome, that their peers have interpreted 'no' as a rejection of them," she said.

"This is not acceptable, and so far from the truth … this referendum has made it abundantly clear we live in a time when it is becoming increasingly hard, if not impossible, to have reasonable and safe public discussions."

Alex Mitchell and Paul Osborne - AAP


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