Friday, October 12, 2007

Blind Freddie can see the cynicism

Way back in 1967 I was drawn into a referendum campaign to recognise aboriginals as part of Australian society. In fact, one provision was to count our indigenes in census counts. It seemed like a no-brainer, even to a very young political activist.

Forty years later Prime Minister John Howard, facing a hostile electorate, has trotted the issue out again, proposing a new referendum to incorporate a "statement of reconciliation" into the preamble of the constitution.

The man has no sense of history or honour. The first referendum, to my eternal regret, delivered nothing more than a salve for the non-indigenous community. Howard’s referendum will simply extend that moral escape route, and the real issues will continue to rub.

I was shocked again recently to hear that eyesight issues are still a major problem among aboriginal communities in this country. This is decades after pioneer doctor Fred Hollows developed inexpensive and portable treatments for the viral based cause of indigenous blindness. The report I saw suggested that $20 million dollars over five years would eradicate the problem, but government has other priorities.

In some parts of the country, between 65 and 75 percent of Indigenous people die before the age of 65. The mortality rate of Australia’s Indigenous infants is comparable to those of some developing countries.

We don’t need a bloody referendum, we need action. The Fred Hollows Foundation says it wants to see an end to treatable eye disease and is holding a second blitz on eye surgery at the Alice Springs Hospital.

Foundation spokesman Chris Masters says the work will help get through some of the 300 people waiting for eye surgery in central Australia. He says the foundation is now working with governments and Aboriginal health organisations to develop an eye care system that can stop the waiting lists getting so long.

It’s not a big call, but it beats the hell out of playing politics with people’s health. The Fred Hollows Foundation works right across the troubled third word countries, and is worthy of real support. It is a disgrace beyond words that they are still needed in Australia.

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