It’s time to close the gap

Media Releases, Opinion article written on the 15 Jul 2007

There is a national crisis in Indigenous welfare. It’s taken years and numerous reports and calls for action from Aboriginal leaders for governments to act. Now there is the political will to invest in the sorts of basic services other Australians take for granted; primary health care, education, housing and health.
We have reached a crucial moment in our nation’s history. Right now we have the opportunity to stop the abuse of Indigenous children.
The Little Children are Sacred report that has galvanised the Australian Government into action goes beyond documenting the current reality and offers hope for the future – hope and practical solutions though its 97 recommendations.
But it is bewildering that the Prime Minister’s recent announcement and the enormous public debate it has generated responds to only a handful of the 97 recommendations made by Rex Wild and Pat Anderson in their report.
The report strongly focused on the need for education in communities, stressing the need for more and better schools and teachers at a cost of $600 million over the next decade.
Beyond docking family welfare payments for truancy, will the Government meet challenge thrown down by the Report?
Nor has there been any response so far from the Government to the recommendation to dramatically boost the number of Aboriginal health workers to be trained and located in remote communities.
This glaring omission is despite Australia’s leading health and Indigenous agencies having pleaded with successive governments to increase funding in this year’s budget for successful programs that are making a difference.
The evidence is there on health for all to see. The health of Aboriginal people improves when they are empowered to take control. In Townsville for example a Mums & Babies project has received nearly 40,000 patients since it opened in 2000, leading to improved birth weight of Aboriginal babies.
The public has demonstrated in recent days that our collective conscience is aching for a better future for the nation. It’s time to Close The Gap through working with Aboriginal people.

Andrew Hewett
Executive Director
Oxfam Australia

Published in Darwin’s Sunday Territorian on 15 July 2007.