Impact of language, education and social barriers for Indigenous people's health debated

Document Type

Media Release

Publication Date

Fall 5-5-2011

Publisher Name

The University of Notre Dame Australia, Fremantle Campus

Publication Place



A former Halls Creek resident and current student at The University of Notre Dame Australia promoted the inclusion of health curriculum, such as an Aboriginal Health Certificate, as having real benefits to the understanding of health care for Indigenous school leavers.

Law/Arts student, Sophie Harrison, has seen first-hand the difficulties Indigenous people have faced in understanding a challenging health care system while living in the State’s North West.

Ms Harrison’s proposal drew support from all guest panellists at the Big Ideas Evening held at Notre Dame’s Fremantle Campus on Monday, 2 May.

Coordinated by Dr Martin Drum from the School of Arts and Sciences, the event discussed ways of increasing the participation of Indigenous people in the health sector.

Six students from the Medical and Social Justice student associations offered their suggestions for a more inclusive health care system to some of Western Australia’s most recognised politicians and health care professionals. They cited education and social inclusion as being the catalysts for change.

Federal Member for Hasluck, Ken Wyatt MHR; WA Shadow Education Minister, Ben Wyatt MLA; Department of Health Aboriginal Health Director, Jenni Collard; and WACHS Aboriginal Health Improvement Unit Area Director, Kevin Cox, all offered feedback to the speakers, as well as presenting their views about how health care options for Indigenous people could be improved.

Ms Harrison explained to more than 100 people at the event that like non-Indigenous people, Indigenous people were equally able to understand medicine, but social, educational and language barriers needed to be broken down.

She said many Indigenous school leavers in the Kimberley lacked a basic understanding of health care and the health care system.

“Because so many students drop out by Year 10 it’s about getting people involved early so that those who do want to graduate get a sense of what they want to do in the future,” Ms Harrison said.

“But even if health care is not what they want to do, it provides a basic knowledge so if they do drop out they can still look after themselves.”

Jessica Crute, a member of the UNDA Social Justice Association, encouraged dialogue between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to develop a more universal health care system based on the requirements of Aboriginal people and their culture.

Social Justice Association member, Peter Dawson, said more support was needed for Aboriginal people suffering from psychological and emotional trauma and could be found by sharing successful strategies between health care professionals more often.

Medicine students, Alison Hughes, Jasmine O’Neil and Andrew Hewson, touched on the need to work with Aboriginal communities to establish mentoring programs and educational pathways for children to facilitate a better understanding of health in their communities.

Ben Wyatt said for too long have issues in regional WA been surrounded by poor attendance in schools and education systems needed to be reprioritised.

“What we do know is that those Aboriginal children that have gone and achieved literacy and numeracy standards; inevitably lifestyles, the standard of living and health always improve with an increase in educational standards,” Mr Wyatt said.

“All the answers don’t reside in the public service; it’s as simple as that. Universities play such an up and coming role in public policy and should be leading a lot of the development of public policy and that’s what you’re seeing with these sorts of discussions.”

Kevin Cox congratulated Notre Dame students for their innovative discussion topics about Indigenous health issues and said Australians needed to learn more about the past to ensure it was not repeated.

“I am feeling very encouraged and positive, especially when I see the brightness of our future generations to present something in the manner they did,” Mr Cox said.

Dr Drum said the evening gave students an opportunity to showcase their knowledge about Indigenous issues more broadly.

"Our University has many brilliant minds and ideas and it’s important that we share these beyond our own walls,” Dr Drum said.

“If these ideas are able to be translated into definite outcomes in government, universities and the wider community then that is a great thing."

Media Contact: Leigh Dawson (+61) 8 9433 0569, Mob (+61) 0405 441 093