Close the Gap - renewed commitment needed

Political parties have been called on to renew their commitment to closing the unacceptable health and life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians.

 

Campaign Co-Chairs Mick Gooda and Dr Jackie Huggins will today release the Close the Gap Progress and priorities report 2016 at a Federal Parliamentary Breakfast event in Canberra.

 

The report makes a number of recommendations including that each political party, prior to the next federal election, make Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing a major priority.

 

“This year, marks the tenth anniversary of the Close the Gap Campaign and ten years of hard work and achievement,” Mr Gooda said.

 

“We have seen some encouraging improvements over that time, but without concerted effort across governments and respectful engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples we as a nation will fail to close the gap.

 

“Health inequality has been a stain on our nation for far too long, but this generation has the opportunity to remove the stain and deliver health equality for Australia’s First peoples.”

 

Dr Huggins, who is also Co-Chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, said improvements in some areas of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health provided reason for optimism.

 

“We have seen improvements in the areas of infant and child health outcomes, the number of health checks being reported and better access to medicines,” Dr Huggins said.

 

“The long term impact of such improvements on adult health and life expectancy is yet to be seen as this will take time to measure. This should not be cause for complacency because the overall health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples still lags behind the rest of the nation."

 

The report advises that due to lead times between the design and roll out of programs, measurable improvements to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life expectancy should not be expected until at least 2018.

 

Mr Gooda, who is also the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, said achieving the closing the gap targets within a generation would require a long term reform agenda.

 

“There is no quick fix for improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing. We need rock solid commitment with structures in place that will survive terms of government,” Commissioner Gooda said.

 

The Campaign Co-Chairs said the new Implementation Plan for the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan (2013–2023) provides government with an immediate opportunity to support closing the gap efforts.

 

“Funding of the Implementation Plan should be prioritised. We want to see core health service models and associated workforce and funding arrangements urgently developed, with particular focus on regions with relatively poor health and inadequate levels of service,” Dr Huggins said.

 

“Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services should be the preferred model for investment as our own Aboriginal Health Services are best placed to deliver primary health care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in all settings.”

 

The report also includes recommendations for an additional COAG Closing the Gap Target to reduce imprisonment rates; an increased focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability; a national inquiry into racism and institutional racism in health care; and reform of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy.

 

Access the Closing the Gap – Progress and Priorities Report 2016 at http://www.humanrights.gov.au/our-work/aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-social-justice/publications/close-gap-progress.

 

10 February 2016.