TRANSCRIPT: Doorstop, Alice Springs, Wednesday 25 May






WARREN SNOWDON MP, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR LINGIARI: Thank you for coming this morning. It's a great privilege and an honour to be here at the Purple House with Sarah and her wonderful team. Thank you Sarah for having us and for hosting us here. And to Luke from the Kidney Foundation, Kidney Australia, thank you Luke. And of course, my colleague and future Deputy Prime Minister of the country, Tanya Plibersek, it’s a pleasure, Tanya. I don't intend to say anything other than introduce Sarah. I think this story speaks for itself. You don't need to be a great soothsayer to see the impact the Purple House has had on these people who are here currently being assisted by dialysis here. What they're doing right around the north of Australia and the impact that's having not only on the lives of the individuals who are getting the treatment but on their families and communities. So Sarah, over to you.

SARAH BROWN, CEO OF PURPLE HOUSE: It's lovey to have Tanya finally come for a visit to Purple House. She's been promising for a while now to come and meet people here. We are an Aboriginal Community-controlled health service Pintupi started us with an auction of art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2000.  People raised $1 million from their painting and it was their chance to come up with a new model of care for people, which had a focus on getting people home to country, being looked after by family and a real sense of wellbeing and hope about life. And so we went from one little machine here and one machine in Kintore 550 kilometres west of here, to today with 24 dialysis machines in 11 places. And Pintupi mob have helped other groups across the Northern Territory and WA to get dialysis going. So it's lovely to come and share this place as a really positive story about Aboriginal people doing things for themselves and proving a model works really well and then getting support from the Government. So welcome and thank you for coming.


SNOWDON: Thanks Sarah.

LUKE TOY, GENERAL MANAGER PUBLIC AFFAIRS KIDNEY AUSTRALIA: Kidney Health Australia is the peak body for those living with or caring for those with kidney disease.  One of the things that we've really been focusing on is kidney disease in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. To that end we've called for national action because we see this as a national issue. Kidney disease does not respect state borders and territory borders. It’s a national problem. One in ten Australians have signs of chronic kidney disease, but if you're indigenous that number doubles, it's one in five. You’re four times more likely to have stage four kidney disease if you're indigenous and if you happen to be living in a very remote area, 37% of indigenous Australians in remote areas will have signs of kidney disease. It's a disease that costs us $2.5 billion a year and t here is no one solution to it. So what Kidney Health Australia has been calling since issuing its report is for national action that addresses the issues around prevention of kidney disease, around the early detection and better management of kidney disease, and really around flexible models for the delivery of dialysis and support and carer services - much like we see here at Purple House. So it's great to have Warren and Tanya here to be at Purple House to hear about this announcement. Thank you.

PLIBERSEK: Thanks very much Luke and it's wonderful to hear from Sarah, and of course to be here with my friend and colleague, Warren Snowdon. Warren, of course, has been a terrific advocate for the people of Alice Springs and for the people of the Territory overall as well. It's Warren who has made so many inroads in taking a long-term approach to indigenous health, including the 10 year plan that he is the author of. Being here at Purple House is very special for me. When I was Health Minister I often met with Sarah in Canberra or in Sydney and I have been wanting to get here for a while because I know that this is one of the best services of its type - well certainly anywhere in Australia, and I think probably anywhere in the world. It's an organisation that respects and responds to the needs of its patients, its community. You can hear a bit of the communi ty in the background right now in fact. What we know, as Luke said, is that chronic kidney disease is all too common across the Australian community, but it is particularly common in indigenous communities, and he talked about the fact that indigenous Australians are twice as likely to have chronic kidney disease as non-indigenous Australians. But one of the great, great tragedies of kidney disease, of course, is that if left untreated it progresses and it goes from being chronic kidney disease to being acute and even end-stage. And one of the things that we have really struggled with in Australia is, first of all, prevention, secondly, early detection, because we know that if we can detect kidney disease early we can very much slow the progress of it and in fact sometimes even reverse early stages. But treatment, and today we are seeing one of the most innovative treatment models as I said anywhere in Australia. It is so important to offer people treatme nt close to home.  We know that in remote communities and very remote communities people are 20 times more likely to have acute end-stage kidney disease as other Australians and in many cases people have not been able to get the treatment they need close to home and because they don't want to disrupt their families because they don't want to leave their homes, their work, their family members behind, they've actually not had any treatment and so diseases have progressed when they needn't have if they'd been detected and treated much earlier. So one of the challenges, of course, is to make sure that we respect and understand all of these different challenges. The challenges around prevention, making sure that we deal with the social determinants of health, making sure we've got food security, affordable healthy food, making sure that we have strong messages around prevention and early detection, so that's one part of the challenge. M aking sure that we have a range of treatment options available in peoples' communities, close to home, another challenge. So today Labor is announcing that in line with our support for Aboriginal-controlled community health organisations and with the 10 year plan that Warren authored on indigenous health, we will set aside an extra amount of funding for a national taskforce that will address all of these complex issues, bringing together health specialists, specialists in general practice, specialists in renal dialysis, people who understand the mechanics of delivery of health services in remote areas, so that we can have a proper approach that ensures good indigenous kidney health right across Australia. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: Can you elaborate on what the taskforce will actually do? Whether there's a time frame and how much money is actually allocated?

PLIBERSEK: Absolutely. The Commonwealth Government will allocate, if we are elected, $300,000 over 6 months to this taskforce. But we will be joined by contributions from community organisations, from private benefactors, most particularly from Kidney Health Australia, because they have been pushing for and driving this big change, this approach that takes into account the particular needs of indigenous communities right across Australia.

JOURNALIST: And will there be a report at the end of this or what's going to happen?

PLIBERSEK: Well, this isn’t about writing a report; this is, of course, there will be a written document that lays out how we can best use our whole health system to improve indigenous kidney health. Now, we, when we were in government, provided funding, for example, to the Northern Territory Government to help purchase a mobile dialysis bus. We put money into accommodation so that people could come into Alice Springs and Tennant Creek and receive dialysis in these larger centres. We offered more money for dialysis machines and other equipment in smaller locations, some of that funding was refused by the Territory Government at the time. We need to make sure that we are working across prevention, detection and treatment, those three areas of health, but we also need to make sure that we are working across our major population centres like Darwin and Alice Springs, but also bringing treatment as close as possible to people's home communities and home lands, so they are much more likely to undertake treatment earlier on in the progression of their illness.

JOURNALIST: Could this be a bit better spent. I mean, it's no secret that kidney disease is at crisis level and it's particularly bad amongst indigenous Australians. We're standing here at Purple House, which as you mentioned is a program that is making a difference. Could this money be spent on actual action rather than another taskforce?

PLIBERSEK: Well, Purple House is, of course, a fantastic organisation, and when I was the health minister we increased funding for Purple House and I'm proud of the fact that we did. This taskforce is not a replacement for direct action, it's an effort to coordinate and guide the direct action and direct investment that we would make in government. Now you must remember, of course, that this Federal government has cut $600 million from the NT hospital system. You would know that the Liberal-National Government in Canberra has attacked Medicare, has made it harder to go and see a GP and to get bulk billed when you do. They want to increase the cost of medicines. They've cut support for indigenous health programs as well, about a $120 million cut to indigenous health programs. So we are indeed very critical of the withdrawal of services in the Northern Territory and aroun d Australia and we've already made very substantial announcements about increasing our support for Medicare, making sure that it's still possible to see your GP and be bulk billed, making sure that the cost of medicines don't go up. This is not a replacement for investment in the health system. It is a way of making sure that all of the elements of our health system work together to provide better services, but also that we consider other issues like transport, like housing, like food security, like the social determinants of health that make it more likely that people in remote and very remote communities develop kidney disease and go on to have chronic or acute kidney disease that all too often results in people having to leave their homes for treatment or worse still, dying much younger than they should because they haven't received treatment.

JOURNALIST: I'd just like to ask you about Malarndirri MacCarthy. What's, do you think she'd make a good NT Labor Senator?

PLIBERSEK: I've got an awful lot of respect for Malarndirri MacCarthy. She's a terrific Territorian, but there will also be other candidates no doubt throwing their hat in the ring over the next few days, so there is no way that I will pre-judge the outcome of the process that we're going into. We are very grateful to Nova Peris for the contribution that she has made over the last 3 years in the Senate and of course grateful to her for the fine role model that she has been, both as a sportsperson and as a political figure on our national stage. We hope, over the next few days, to select another Territorian who will fill her footsteps, those of Trish Crossin before Nova, in delivering terrific representation for the Territory.

JOURNALIST: You said that the National Executive will pick the next candidate and that there will be more local consultation, how do you expect that to happen in just a few days?

PLIBERSEK: Well I'm sure the phones are running hot already as we speak. But it is important of course to choose a replacement for Nova Peris quickly. We're obviously in the middle of an election campaign already and Territorians deserve to know as soon as possible who Labor will be supporting for that number one Senate spot on the Labor ticket. We want Territorians to have a chance to get to know that person before the election. 

JOURNALIST: On the NT Government dialysis bus that you mentioned, that Tanya spoke about in 2011, there's reports that it's just been sitting in a car park unused for two years. What's your response?

SNOWDON: Oh well I think that's an indictment on the Northern Territory Government. It just shows how they've lost the plot. Clearly if you were interested in looking after the interests of people who live in remote communities and who require renal dialysis and require respite care, you'd actually have this bus functioning. The Purple House have a bus which is regularly on the road. The Purple House could be running this bus for the Northern Territory Government. They've made the offer, and the Northern Territory Government have done nothing. I think it's a damning indictment on the CLP and the way in which they've administered the health care system in the Northern Territory, but most particularly what it's done to inhibit the opportunities for Aboriginal people who are on dialysis.

JOURNALIST: Back in 2011, the then Labor Government gave $400,000 to develop that bus. Over the last two years it's apparently not been working. Do you know what's happened to that money?

SNOWDON: The money was for the bus, so the bus is there, but it might as well be up on blocks. That's the point. They could have worked out an agreement with someone else if they didn't want to run it themselves, but what they were concerned about was the running costs. How pathetic are they? How pathetic are they that they couldn't bother, or weren't able to fund someone to drive a bus with a renal nurse associated with it to go and provide supervised renal care for Aboriginal people in different parts of the Northern Territory as a result of this bus. When they got the bus, they were very quick to parade it up at Garma. They drove it up there, they showed it off, they said this is what we're going to do. Then they came back and they more or less put it on blocks.

JOURNALIST: Do you know what will happen to that resource?

SNOWDEN: I'm imagining, that should the ALP get elected, and I'm hopeful that they will, in the forthcoming Northern Territory election, that we'll get the new Northern Territory Government to get it off blocks, to give it a grease and oil change and have it on the road.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that the uncertainty around the NT Labor Senator will hurt your campaign?


JOURNALIST: Do you have any thoughts on Nova Peris' performance as a one-term Labor Senator?

SNOWDON: Nova took a family decision to not continue. She would have been most appropriate should she have chosen to continue but she, for her own family reasons, took a decision not to continue. So she's retiring, we'll have a replacement announced in the very near future. That person will be very competent whoever it is because I know there'll be a field of candidates who are all valuable and valued by the community. I'm looking forward to that announcement, whenever it will be and I'm anticipating, within the next week, that I can work with that person and I know that Luke Gosling in Solomon, will be wanting to work with that person to make sure we do get elected, that we win the seat of Solomon and I retain the seat of Lingiari and that we have a new Labor Senator in Canberra.

JOURNALIST: You've done a lot of research into indigenous health, you've done the 10-year plan, there's a lot of information out there, there are bodies that do information, look into this. What is a taskforce going to do?  Shouldn't the money be put into resources [inaudible]?

SNOWDON: Well no, what we know is we've got disjointed services. What we know is that we've got various jurisdictions doing different things. What we need to do is understand how we can bring the best practice, best practice, into the delivery of renal services, and get people to focus on it. I'm absolutely certain, that should this proceed, and I hope it will, that we'll find that services like that are provided by the Purple House would be seen as being the exemplar of what can be done in the bush. At the moment I think there's a reluctance on some state governments to see the advantages and opportunities that services like the Purple House provide. As recently as last week I was in Yirrkala and the Purple House look after Miwatj Health, Two Chairs at Yirrkala. I visited that service. There are local people, really good people that I know extremely well, getting service s, getting renal treatment in their community. Now that's got to be a lot better than having those people relocate to Darwin, Alice Springs, Katherine or Tennant Creek or somewhere else where they'll die eventually away from country. They want to be at home, their families want them at home, it's more cost effective, it's better in terms of health outcomes, and it's smart. And that's what this task force will bring I think, an opportunity to focus on what works, to look at things like food security as Tanya has already mentioned, on housing, on sugary drinks, all of those things that we need [inaudible] to contemplate if we want to prevent renal disease in the first place, and then we go into the treatment of those chronic disease, made of all of the things that Purple House does so well.

JOURNALIST: Do you know who's going to be on this taskforce and what the time frame is, anything like that?

SNOWDON: The time frame will be six months and we'll be starting from June 2017.

JOURNALIST: Who's going to be on the taskforce?

SNOWDON: Kidney Health Australia clearly, and I'm imagining the new Minister whoever that is, I'm assuming it will be Catherine King, will work with Kidney Australia to make sure the task force is properly representative.