Western Australia’s Aboriginal Health Council, a peak health body for First Nations people, has gone further than just criticising the Federal Government’s $7 Medicare co-payment. The Council is sending a powerful message to both the Federal Government and to Australia’s 76 Senators, that it will stand in the way of the co-payment at all costs and refuse to pass it on to patients.

The Council will take the stance of a conscientious objector.

The Aboriginal Health Council has stated that they will not be party to any co-payment. The Council believes that the co-payment will have an adverse effect on the immediate and future health of payments. That far too many will not be able to afford it.

Western Australia has among the most impoverished First Nations people on the continent. There are 274 remote communities in Western Australia. The Kimberley has the greatest concentration of First Nations people. Western Australia has the highest homeless rate and suicide rates in the nation, with First Nations people impacted disproportionately and at record levels.

Aboriginal Health Council chairperson, Marelda Tucker said that access to health should never be impeded. Ms Tucker is concerned that the most vulnerable people, First Nations people leaders and communities are fighting tooth and nail to bridge the health gap and the majority of them see the co-payment as widening the divide, with First Nations persons deciding at times to not visit a doctor when in fact they should. A wealthy Australian will not be dissuaded by a $7 payment but for those surviving below the Henderson Poverty Line they will often find themselves with no money or with only dollars to spare.

“We have taken drastic action because we care about our people.”

“We want our people to live.”

“We are tired of going to funerals, we are tired of burying our people.”

In the Kimberley, one in three First Nations persons will die before the age of 45 years. Western Australian First Nations people have the highest suicide rates in the nation.

“We need to take these drastic steps to make sure that our people survive.”

The Kimberley’s Derby Aboriginal Health Service treated more than 41,000 people last year. The Service will stand to lose nearly $300,000 annually if it refuses to pass on the co-payment to patients, but Ms Tucker said that if they were to pass on the co-payment that for far too many “to pay $7 at the doctor may mean going without bread and milk.”

Ms Tucker said “putting off going to the doctor” can mean that someone develops chronic disease.

Ms Tucker said that the Federal Government should pay attention “to our stance” and start to better understand Aboriginal health.

“They need to mean business about Aboriginal employment and Aboriginal health.”

The social disadvantage in Western Australia for First Nations people is extreme, alongside with the Northern Territory, the worst in the nation.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare First Nations people are already less likely to visit a doctor. With cancer they are more likely to have cancers that have a poor prognosis because in general First Nations people are usually diagnosed with cancer at a later stage. First Nations people tend to present later to health care and have lower participation rates in screening programs. According to Ms Tucker it is a given that the $7 co-payment will get in the way and further reduce access to early health care and optimal health treatment regimes.