The cuts to Queensland’s public health workforce are not only devastating for efforts to improve the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities; they undermine the work of individuals who have been striving to improve their skills, careers and futures.
A conservative government “has just taken the bulldozer to one of its ideological cornerstones; that is, support for those who take responsibility and work hard to progress themselves and their family,” says Suzanne Plater, Course Coordinator of the Graduate Diploma in Indigenous Health Promotion, University of Sydney.
Does Federal Opposition leader Tony Abbott realise that a cause supported by his Pollie Pedalfund raiser – training in health promotion for Indigenous students – has been hit by the Newman Government’s cuts?
So much for helping those who help themselves
Suzanne Plater writes:
About six years ago, a director of public health in far north Queensland had the foresight and tenacity to initiate a partnership with the University of Sydney to encourage and support Queensland’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers to complete a degree in health promotion.
He was determined to build a workforce that had the knowledge, skills and experience to work side by side with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across northern Queensland and the Torres Strait to tackle health issues before they became critical.
In other words: to develop and implement primary prevention and secondary intervention programs that would address health issues identified as priorities, such as type 2 diabetes, ear disease, substance use, risky sexual practices, physical inactivity and family violence.
Funding for scholarships was provided by Queensland Health and its affiliates and only those who met strict eligibility criteria were selected to enrol in the course: the Graduate Diploma in Indigenous Health Promotion at The University of Sydney.
As one of the lecturers and now the course coordinator, I was always impressed with the standard of students who came from Queensland – they were savvy, motivated and committed to making a difference.
And I would happily describe Queensland’s progressive workforce development policies to other state and territory colleagues and sing the praises of the quality graduates who went back to their communities to implement what they had learned.
Can anyone who hasn’t grown up as an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person really understand what it takes to haul yourself off to a university in a different state when you have significant family, work and community responsibilities and you haven’t studied since you were a kid?
I was often astounded at the resilience and optimism of our students, many of who experienced major life challenges during their year of study. The investment in their own social and economic uplift and that of their families and communities was huge.
In Queensland under the Bligh government their effort was recognised and rewarded with opportunities to apply for health promotion positions that paid them what they were worth and provided them with a satisfying sense of their own professional abilities and identity.
Sadly, as a result of Newman’s ‘quick and dirty’ tactics, many of the Queensland graduates of this course have now lost their jobs and others are in a distressing limbo.
The Newman Government has supported Noel Pearson’s fight against the Wild Rivers legislation, which would have severely curtailed the rights of Aboriginal people in Cape York to access their own land and waterways for economic growth. And in my opinion it was the right thing to do.
Yet Newman appears to have no compunction in taking away the jobs of our graduates – the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were already on that trajectory to social and economic prosperity.
This isn’t about preserving our course or my job. We attract Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from all over the country, so for us it’s business as usual (although we’ll certainly miss our cohort from Queensland).
This is about the appalling short-sightedness of the Newman Government which, regardless of its COAG rhetoric, obviously doesn’t give a damn about closing the gap. This is about a conservative government that has just taken the bulldozer to one of its ideological cornerstones; that is, support for those who take responsibility and work hard to progress themselves and their family.
Tony Abbott’s 2009 Pollie Pedal event raised $100,000 for scholarships for Graduate Diploma in Indigenous Health Promotion students.
Some of the recipients of that generosity are now anxiously waiting to hear what his State Government colleague, Campbell Newman, has in store for them. And they’re not optimistic.
• Suzanne Plater is Course Coordinator, Graduate Diploma in Indigenous Health Promotion, University of Sydney