Report Shows Way Forward for Closing the Gap
16 March 2017 at 4:41 pm
Australian governments at all levels are failing Australia’s First Peoples, but there is “a way forward”, according to a new report released to mark National Close the Gap Day.
The Close the Gap Campaign 2017 Progress and Priorities Report, which was released on Thursday and marks the eighth report of its kind, said Australia was still failing after 10 years despite Closing the Gap being a national bipartisan priority.
According to the report, the federal government “has failed to listen or act adequately or appropriately” on the recommendations of the Close the Gap Steering Committee.
“We remain deeply concerned that government is yet to fully grasp the interconnectedness of the social and cultural determinants to health,” the report said.
“We believe that the nation is at risk of failing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, if it does not act on the recommendations set out by the Close the Gap Campaign, as a priority over the next 12 months.”
It comes a month after the prime minister’s Closing the Gap Report, given to Parliament in February, revealed that only one key target was on track to close the gap by 2030.
Close the Gap Campaign co-chairs Dr Jackie Huggins and Patricia Turner said something needed to change.
“Closing the gap in health equality between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians is an agreed national priority, but governments are failing to meet nearly every key measure. This has to change,” Huggins and Turner said.
Huggins, who also co-chairs the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, said it was time for urgent action.
“The reality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is that we have a life expectancy at least 10 years shorter than non-Indigenous Australians. We need urgent action,” Huggins said.
This latest report emphasised dual priorities of a “renewed and meaningful engagement” between government and Australia’s First Peoples and the “essential need” for health to be considered in the context of the wider social and cultural determinants that impact on the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
It offered several key recommendations to move Australia closer to achieving Indigenous health equality including:
- state, territory and federal governments must meaningfully commit to closing the health gap by implementing co-ordinated partnerships with the Commonwealth
- strategies must take account of the social and cultural determinants of health
- the federal government should initiate a national inquiry into racism in hospitals and other health care settings to help identify and counter racism’s impact on health care.
The Greens welcomed the report, with Senator Rachel Siewert calling on the government to close the gap on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander hearing health.
“For years the government has known that unaddressed hearing loss and impairment in Aboriginal communities worsens life outcomes and entrenches disadvantage, yet successive governments have failed to act,” Siewert said.
“There is a strong link between Aboriginal peoples’ hearing loss and impairment and the justice system. Children with a hearing impairment can end up alienated and isolated at school, which undermines their education.
“We urgently need a comprehensive strategy to resolve this avoidable problem that is having such severe implications.
“I welcome the recommendations of the 2017 Close the Gap report, which calls for new engagement with our First Peoples and the Redfern Statement, as well as a reset to the national approach to health inequality.
“We are a developed nation with third world health outcomes for our First Peoples. It is time the government stopped sitting on its hands because we are not going to close the gap at this rate.”
Meanwhile NSW Aboriginal Land Council chair Roy Ah-See said Aboriginal people must drive efforts to close the gap.
He said it was vital to keep governments engaged in efforts to close the gap on “appalling” health outcomes.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can expect to live 10 to 17 years younger than other Australians and the data on preventable illness and infant mortality is an appalling reminder of the challenges we face,” Ah-See said.
“The inequalities in health are a generational challenge and we have to continue the fight because the lives of our children depend on it.
“Positive change is possible – particularly when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations are driving those changes.
“Solutions that are generated by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are a key part of any efforts to close the gap on health and living standards in Australia.”