Today, Prime Minister Julia Gillard delivered the fifth annual report on progress to Closing the Gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Alongside this, the Close the Gap coalition released its Shadow Report, keeping Government to account on this progress.
While all parties have voiced support for health equality, now is the time to demonstrate how promises will be turned into programs with accountable results. The efforts by government, non-government organisations, communities and individuals are to address simple facts such as babies born to Aboriginal mothers die at around twice the rate of other babies, and then children survive to experience higher rates of preventable illness such as heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes.
The Close the Gap campaign welcomed specific gains including:
- the target to halve the mortality rates for children under five appears to be on track
- significant increase in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples accessing health services for chronic disease – which is the basis of the significant gap in health outcomes
- the work already underway to develop a long term health plan in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
- meeting the target for early childhood education access in remote communities
In the upcoming election year, the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians cannot fall victim to budget cuts or be propped up on short-term drip funding. All parties must support multi-decade commitments that will span policy cycles, funding agreements and governments. Now that the election has been set, and with the budget on the horizon, a fiscal commitment will most likely be announced in due course. These are nervous times because without this commitment by both sides, the prospect of closing the gap within a generation will be lost.
It is important that we see a re-commitment to a National Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap in Indigenous Health Outcomes. The current agreement expires in a few months. This is the key funding that underpins all of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health programs and services provided by government, as well as by the Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations. Alongside this, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan is due midyear. It is already off to a good start and will serve as a partnership between the government, our community and peak health bodies. The nation expects commitments to be maintained and crucial investment to continue, until we close the gap.
We know that change can and does happen where collaboration between the community-controlled health sector and the government exists – where there’s genuine partnership. There is an undeniable groundswell of good will from Australians, with more than 185,000 people supporting the Close the Gap campaign. Tens of thousands of people are expected to take part in National Close the Gap Day events on March 21. As the day gets bigger each year, it provides hope that as a nation, we want to address this historical indictment.
This year is a critical juncture if we are to close the gap, and although there are many challenges and a long way to go, the finish line is within sight of a generation. This is the year to hold to the vision of what can be achieved – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health equality within our lifetimes, within our generation.
What you can do: