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Australian Indigenous HealthBulletin Alcohol and other drugs knowledge centre Yarning Places

New Public Health Act for WA will improve conditions in Indigenous communities

Date posted: 7 September 2012

Western Australia's Health Minister, Kim Hames, has pledged to introduce a new Public Health Bill to WA Parliament before the end of 2012.

The new legislation will remove outdated laws, tackle modern health issues and change the lives of those living in WA's remote Indigenous communities. The existing Act, which is now over 100 years old, is riddled with references to public health issues which have little relevance to modern life.

In a recent interview with an ABC journalist, the WA Health Department's director of Environmental Health, Jim Dodds, agreed that the Act makes for humorous reading.

'There are some good ones about not being able to take your ducks, sheep and goats down to the local water supply,' he said. 'We also have a lot of information about how to manage earth closets (pit toilets) and cesspools in your backyard. Then there's some lovely ones about venereal diseases too.'

More seriously, it is hoped that updating the Public Health Act will improve health standards in WA's remote Aboriginal communities. Ted Wilkes, Professor of Public Health at Curtin University, says services like sewage, rubbish collection and water supply in Indigenous communities aren't up to scratch.

'Sewage systems leave a fair bit to be desired to be honest,' he said. 'We've had situations where water mains and pipes are buried too shallow, so they're ruined after a few cars and trucks go over them. The infrastructure just isn't there.'

A 2008 WA Health Department survey found 80% of Aboriginal communities in WA rely on bores for their water supply, while 70% of residents don't have their rubbish collected by a local shire. Almost 90% rely on a community effluent system for the disposal of sewage, with many facilities unfenced and overflowing. That's because under the current Act, state-wide health standards don't actually apply to people living in hundreds of Indigenous communities on Crown land.

The new bill will include a clause to 'bind the crown', meaning those communities will have to meet the same standards as everywhere else. Professor Wilkes says it's long overdue.

'Before we were told nothing could be done when we complained about these facilities,' he said. 'But, if there are protocols in place, community leaders will have the confidence and knowledge to take issues like sewage to government and demand action. It gives residents more security and lifts environmental and health standards for the next generation.'

Source: ABC News


Last updated: 5 September 2012
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