Marion Scrymgour honoured

29 November 2013

The University of Sydney today awarded Marion Scrymgour, a pioneer in politics, policy and health, an honorary doctorate.

Ms Scrymgour was nominated to receive a Doctor of Health Sciences by Professor Shane Houston, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services).

"Marion Scrymgour has bought the same integrity, passion and commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health as she did to being the first Indigenous woman elected to the Northern Territory parliament, as well as being appointed Australia's first Indigenous female cabinet minister," Professor Houston said.

"She was central to the development of new health services in the Northern Territory, one where Aboriginal organisations care for entire populations - Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike - in an area roughly 70 percent the size of Victoria.

"Her work in health is widely recognised as groundbreaking in its bringing together of communities, government, pastoral and other interests to create an effective model for solid, culturally sensitive and accountable health care delivery," he said.

Ms Scrymgour is described by Professor Houston as someone who has never lost her willingness to speak out on important matters and who is always prepared to challenge others to think deeply about complex issues.

"In her parliamentary career Marion tackled the difficult issues: substance abuse, domestic violence and child protection amongst Aboriginal people. She improved heritage laws, took on the thorny question of English proficiency among Aboriginal students in bush schools, and stood up against her own party on matters such as undermining the importance of homelands for remote communities," he said.

"Marion is the embodiment of the strength of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander traditional wisdom combined with western knowledge.

"She is an outstanding Australian," Professor Houston said.

Ms Scrymgour said she is humbled by the University of Sydney honour and hoped it would inspire young people who might think such an achievement is unattainable.

She attributes news of the suicide of an eight-year-old girl as a turning point in her political career.

"That death was really confronting. It was the first time as a politician I felt impotent. I knew then I had to go back to working directly with people in health," Ms Scrymgour said.

"The resources are there but we've got to be smarter in how we use them. We've got to sit down and make some very hard decisions.

"Everything to do with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health is a priority and we're not going to solve it all. But far too many people are dying from preventable diseases caused by lifestyle; smoking, alcohol and diet.

"Mental health, particularly suicide prevention, is a great personal concern.

"My hope for the future is a healthy and safe population. That our children are safe and healthy and accessing good education services," she said.

Contact: Jenny Eather

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