ACT News


Time for talk has passed: health boss

WIRADJURI woman Julie Tongs is not impressed with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's pledge to appoint Warren Mundine chairman of a proposed prime minister's indigenous advisory council.

Mr Abbott made the election promise on a trip to Arnhem Land but, working just six kilometres from Parliament House as the chief executive of Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service, Ms Tongs said the time for talking was over.

''We need action on the ground,'' she said. ''There are so many reports that have gone before this … but if only we had implemented the actions in the reports we would be a lot further along that road. It's frustrating because every time someone new comes in they do all these reviews and we go back over old ground again.''

Ms Tongs, 60, buried her 37-year-old son four years ago. He was schizophrenic but died as a result of uncontrolled diabetes.

''When people come here, we are just dealing with the crisis - we have to be more proactive,'' Ms Tongs said.

''We have three nurses working out of one clinic room and that's not ideal. We should have a room for each and, after they see the GP, they can get a health check.''


Last month, the health service resorted to buying tents for indigenous Australians who had relocated to the territory and sent them to the tent embassy because no accommodation was available.

''We desperately need more funding for more clinic rooms,'' she said. ''Often, indigenous Canberrans get overlooked. We're an affluent city and it just seems like people don't see disadvantage - and we see disadvantage and poverty every day.''

Last financial year, the clinic saw 4002 clients and provided care on more than 38,000 occasions. It has a budget of $8 million from federal and local sources but Ms Tongs said another $4.2 million was needed for staff and infrastructure as caseworkers were overloaded.

The health centre has operated for 25 years. Ms Tongs has worked there for 16.

''There has been a lot of improvement but 16 years ago it was heroin and marijuana and some speed,'' she said. ''The substances are changing so the behaviours are changing. When someone's on heroin, they are on the nod. When someone is on ice, it's very different.''

She said at least one client every week attended the centre in the middle of a psychotic episode.

''Trying to manage that when you have a waiting room full of people and need to keep them safe, it's tough,'' she said.