By the Commonwealth Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion
Today is World Kidney Day – a day when people around the world are invited to consider the importance of kidney health, an issue that hits a lot closer to home than many Australians realise.
That is because far too many of our First Australians are afflicted by kidney disease. Almost 2,000 have the most severe form: end-stage kidney failure, in which regular dialysis or a kidney transplant is needed to stay alive.
As Indigenous Affairs Minister, I spend a lot of time in remote towns and communities across the country and it breaks my heart to see the crippling impact of kidney disease on a proud and strong people.
The statistics, which eminent experts in Indigenous kidney disease like Professor Alan Cass of the Menzies School of Health Research, have shown me are truly horrific. Almost 20 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians aged over 18 have indicators of chronic kidney disease and this rises to one-in-three in remote areas. The incidence of end-stage kidney disease for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote and very remote areas is almost 20 times that of non-Indigenous Australians, and our First Australians are almost four times more likely to die from chronic kidney disease.
For many sufferers a dialysis machine three times a week, for the rest of their lives, is their fate. This takes people away from their families and country which in turn affects their social and emotional wellbeing and changes their lives forever.
Last year the Government announced a $15.3 million funding boost to Purple House to improve the quality and availability of dialysis for people in remote Central Australia. Although this is a welcome improvement in treatment and quality of life for First Australians in the region, the scale of the problem demands the root causes of this epidemic be addressed.
And there can be no doubt one of the main causes is the very high rates of diabetes and high blood pressure from excess sugar consumption, which in turn lead to the prevalence of kidney disease in Indigenous communities. As I have said many times and without any hyperbole, the unhealthy rates of sugar consumption are killing our First Australians and it is incumbent on government to work with communities to address this.
That is why today on World Kidney Day, it is so pleasing to be able to say that the Australian Government has just concluded negotiations on a deal with a community store in the remote south-east Kimberley to drastically reduce sugar consumption. Because as is all too typical in many community stores, the store in Balgo has in recent years sold an average of around 75,900 litres of full-sugar soft drink a year – amounting to almost 150 litres for each person living in the community!
The deal will see our statutory body, Outback Stores, provide a commercial loan to the store (to expand its premises) conditional on a target to reduce volumes of sugar sales by 7 per cent every year for five years. The store has agreed to reduce the size of certain full strength soft drinks and not sell deep fried takeaway food. The deal will also see the store sign a 20-year management agreement to implement Outback Stores’ nutrition policy which guarantees a constant source of fresh fruit and vegetables, differential pricing to encourage healthy eating and $1 bottles of water.
Importantly, this is being driven by the community itself, with the strong support of the Government. The traditional owners and community members who own the store decided they would forgo a little of the profit they could have made from unhealthy foods, in particular full strength soft drink, and make a real difference for the lives of their children. This demonstrates great leadership and I applaud them for that.
The Prime Minister made a commitment that we would be working alongside community – doing things with our First Australians, not to them – and ridding Indigenous people of kidney disease will only happen if we can work together. The community of Balgo demonstrates this spirit and should set an example for other communities to follow.
People who know me, know that kidney disease is a cause very close to my heart, as it is for the countless Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families who have been touched by it. If, by working together, we can reduce the high rates of sugar consumption in communities we will go a long way to closing the gap in health outcomes which continue to evade us. So this World Kidney Day I will be raising a glass of water to the people of Balgo and encouraging all other communities to work with Government to reduce the rates of kidney disease.