A Brief History of AMSANT
Since 1994, AMSANT has played a major role in advocating for Aboriginal people’s right to control their own health services and to have those services funded securely and adequately.
During the 1970s and 1980s, there were strong links between Territory members of NAIHO (the National Aboriginal and Islander Health Organisations, the forerunner of today’s NACCHO), and several meetings were held in Central Australia of the region’s community controlled services.
The formal establishment of AMSANT in October 1994 put the struggle for Aboriginal health on a new level. Although based in the Northern Territory, we have had a strong influence on the national scene and have also represented the health concerns of Aboriginal people internationally.
What follows is a summary of some of the major events in AMSANT’s history:
- Formation of AMSANT (October 1994)
- Campaign for the transfer of Aboriginal Health responsibility from ATSIC (February to May 1995)
- AMSANT organised a delegation to Canberra in February 1995
- Following AMSANT’s lobbying, proposals were accepted and announced in May 1995, with effect from 1 July 1995. The Office of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Services and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Council were established to form the basis for Aboriginal primary health care administration across the country.
- Establishment of the new system (July 1996 to April 1998)
- NT Framework Agreement was finally signed by the Territory Health Minister in April 1998
- United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations (Geneva, July/August 1996)
- Resource Allocation Conference (Alice Springs, November 1996)
- Aboriginal Health Worker Competencies (July 1997 onwards)
- Ilpurla Health Summit (October 1998): From 25 to 28 October 1998 - The first time such a large group of Aboriginal community representatives had gathered specifically to look at health on their communities. The Summit analysed Aboriginal ill-health and its possible solutions and passed resolutions on the above issues as well as Statehood and the recent review of the Northern Territory Land Rights Act.
- Banatjarl Health Summit (August 1999): From the 2 to 6 August 1999 - The Summit was a forum for Aboriginal people, organisations and communities to discuss their health concerns and examine ways of improving their own health.
- Gulkula Health Summit (Sept 2000): From the 4 to 8 September 2000 - The Summit was a forum for Aboriginal people, organisations and communities to discuss their health concerns and examine ways of improving their own health. The Summit was organised around the idea of the ‘Family is Life", family relationships and the crisis facing children and young adults in today's Aboriginal families and communities. The Summit also set up and ran male and female clinics at Garma for festival participants.
- AMSANT Fresh Food Summit (May 2010) held in Tennant Creek brought together Aboriginal people, government workers and nutritionists from all over the Northern Territory to discuss food security on regional and remote communities.
- Health Planning Structures (March 1998 to present): In 1995, when AMSANT began the campaign to improve the administrative arrangements for Aboriginal primary health care, the setting up of transparent and accountable planning structures was a key objective. With the signing of the NT Framework Agreement in April 1998, these structures finally came into being.
- Aboriginal community access to Medicare Funds (1996 to present): Aboriginal people, especially in remote communities, do not have access to doctors and therefore to the large amounts of Medicare money. Commonwealth funding to community controlled health services does not cover this gap when compared to the greater burden of illness that Aboriginal people carry. Therefore, AMSANT has been campaigning for the Commonwealth Government to “cash out” Medicare funds for regions of Aboriginal people. This cashing-out proposal lead to the Aboriginal Coordinated Care Trials in the NT (1996-97) and the 1999 Budget announcement of the Primary Health Care Access Program (PHCAP).
- Primary Health Care Access Program (1999 -2003): By 2001, AMSANT, working with the NTAHF planning partners, had secured PHCAP funding for five health zones in Central Australia and two zones currently proposed in the Top End.
- The Northern Territory Emergency response--commonly known as the Intervention--of June 2007 radically changed the political landscape for Aboriginal people in the Territory. While critical of many aspects, AMSANT and its membership engaged with the Intervention which has led to the Expanded Health Service Delivery Initiative [EHSDI], which brought significant increases to Commonwealth expenditure to Comprehensive Primary Health Care in the Territory.
- Parallel with the Intervention, AMSANT has worked with the Commonwealth and Northern Territory governments through the Northern Territory Aboriginal Health Forum [NTAHF] and in 2009 signed a tripartite agreement Pathways to community control which provides for Aboriginal community control over Comprehensive Primary Health Care over the next few years
- In January 2011, AMSANT signed an agreement with the newly formed Department of Children and Families to auspice the establishment of an Aboriginal community controlled peak agency for Child Protection Youth and Families. This followed recommendations of a Board of Inquiry into the Territory's Child Protection system.
AMSANT seeks to ensure the Commonwealth and the Territory's Department of Health will work towards implementing Pathways to community control through an established funding benchmark, achieved over time to address the poor health status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by:
- Increasing the availability of comprehensive primary health care services to Aboriginal people
- Weighting the funding formula for increased morbidity and degree of remoteness
- Pooling Commonwealth and Territory Primary Health Care funding
- Reforming the NT health system to better meet the needs of Indigenous people through community controlled regional health boards
- Creating an environment that is empowering for individuals and communities to take greater responsibility for their own health by establishing Aboriginal controlled health boards and Aboriginal controlled community primary health care services.