Page 519 - Week 02 - Wednesday, 16 February 2005

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in the project and have attended every meeting the committee has held. Depending on my availability, I will continue to do so.

The committee comprises a wide range of local residents and is chaired by Mr Roger Nicoll, who is also the secretary of the Flynn neighbourhood watch. The committee secretary is the president of the Charnwood primary school P&C, Michael Pilbrow. The committee also has representatives from Belconnen community service, the west Belconnen residents group, the north Belconnen community association and a GP who has links to, but is not currently practising in, the area, as well as other concerned local citizens and prominent local business people.

Since its establishment in September 2004, the committee has achieved a great deal. It has researched the demographics of the north-west Belconnen area, investigated other models for community health care in Australia and, with the assistance of funding from a local business person on the committee, brought the CEO of the South Kingsville health service, a cooperative health care service operating successfully in the western suburbs of Melbourne for over 20 years, to speak with the committee and detail the operations of that health service. It has prepared and distributed a survey to be given to 8,000 households in the catchment area to determine the health needs of the residents. The costs associated with this survey were met by the Canberra Labor Club group. The committee is currently analysing the responses to the survey which, to date, clearly demonstrate a high level of concern at the lack of GP services in the area. Based on the information received to date, it is clear that a large percentage of those in the targeted suburbs experience significant difficulty in accessing affordable GP services. Getting access to the few doctors who do bulk-bill is difficult as the majority have closed their books to new patients and those accepting new patients have long waiting lists for appointments.

Charnwood, in particular, is a suburb of acute need and social disadvantage. The 2001 census revealed that Charnwood has a median weekly individual income in the $300-$399 range, compared with the ACT average of $500-$699 and it has one of the highest levels of indigenous residents, almost double the territory average. Over 27 per cent of Charnwood families are one-parent families, the highest percentage in the ACT. The unemployment rate is nine per cent—75 per cent higher than the average—and over 68 per cent of the residents have no formal qualifications. According to the socioeconomic indicator for areas, which is a measure of an area’s disadvantage, Charnwood is the ACT’s fourth most disadvantaged suburb. However, the three ranked lower than Charnwood are non-typical suburbs, such as Oaks Estate and Symonston.

The Charnwood community health committee is typical of many of the community groups with which I have been associated in the almost 30 years I have been actively involved in the Canberra community. Members of the committee have recognised that there is a need and have set out to find a way to meet it. Like many such groups, they have not said to the government of the day “We have a problem, so what are you going to do to fix it?” Rather, they have systematically worked to determine the extent of the need and are now seeking innovative ways to develop an achievable solution. A positive result for these community projects can only be achieved by the energy that is created by people coming together and working towards a common goal. People actively involved in such committees gain a great deal of satisfaction and pride in their achievements. The development of such projects is what strengthens our community and enhances

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