Foundations laid in past year to ‘Close the Gap’ in health

Campaigns and Advocacy, Media Releases article written on the 26 Feb 2009

The Close the Gap coalition has welcomed the Rudd Government’s Report Card on closing the gap in Indigenous life outcomes, in particular the $58.3 million over four years for eye and ear health – with a trachoma element – and the appointment of a Coordinator General for remote Indigenous services.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner and Chair of the Close the Gap steering committee, Tom Calma, whose 2005 Social Justice Report laid the groundwork for the Close the Gap campaign, said it was important that the important steps made in the last year be acknowledged.
“The federal government has made some significant initial commitments over the past 12 months to close the 17-year gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, and I expect it deserves an ‘A’ for overall effort in this regard,” Mr Calma said.
“However, we need to further consolidate last year’s efforts through a real partnership with Indigenous people, the health sector and state governments to develop and implement a comprehensive national action plan to ensure equality in health and life expectancy between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous Australians by 2030,” Mr Calma said.
“The government’s efforts so far give us hope that things are finally changing for the better.
“The National Apology to the Stolen Generations last February was followed by the historic signing of the Statement of Intent between the Australian Government, the Opposition, Indigenous and non-Indigenous health experts, and the reconciliation movement, to work together to achieve equality in health status and life expectancy.”
Mr Calma said these steps, along with the establishment of the National Indigenous Health Equality Council, deserved to be rated highly in the Report Card, but he said urgent action was needed on the specific, time-bound commitments presented by the Close the Gap coalition to the federal government and the Opposition in July last year as the blueprint to achieve the Prime Minister’s goal of closing the 17-year gap.
“The Close the Gap coalition applauds the $1.6 billion commitment of new funding announced in November to improve Indigenous health and acknowledges this action alone is the biggest ever injection of new funding for Indigenous health,” Mr Calma said. “We now look towards the dedicated Close the Gap COAG meeting this year.”
"We also welcome the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission Report released last week which appears to reflect many of our recommendations regarding the achievement of Indigenous health equality.
"The most critical aspect however remains: there must be commitment to a national planning process and a national partnership with Indigenous communities and I would welcome any further detail the Report proposes in this regard."
Dr Mick Adams, chair of NACCHO*, the peak body for over 145 community controlled Aboriginal health services said: "We expect the Prime Minister’s commitment to furthering Aboriginal community control of our primary health care services as expressed by his signing the Statement of Intent will become an integral part of the government’s response to the Close the Gap campaign".
“It is imperative the government looks at appropriate funding for our sector to employ and retain health professionals to provide the services we need that include areas such as mental health,” Dr Adams said.
President of the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association (AIDA), Dr Tamara Mackean said: "Achieving the Close the Gap outcomes fundamentally requires the full participation of Indigenous people and their health organisations, but this is not their responsibility alone. We need a whole-of-health system reform to deliver quality services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people."
Oxfam Australia Executive Director Andrew Hewett urged the Rudd Government to develop a comprehensive national action plan in partnership with Indigenous Australians. “Thousands of Australians have made Close the Gap the largest campaign to improve Indigenous health,” he said. “These supporters have made it clear they expect the Rudd Government to keep this issue a priority.”
National Director of Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR) David Cooper said: “The Rudd Government now has a unique opportunity to direct significant resources to expand the successful community controlled health sector and positively engage Indigenous communities in taking action on closing the gap.”
Close the Gap is a coalition of Australia’s leading health, human rights and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations. The campaign was launched in April 2007.
Please contact: Louise McDermott – 0419 258 597 (for Tom Calma)
Laurelle Keough – 0409 960 100 (for Andrew Hewett)
David Cooper – 0418 486 310 (ANTaR)
Chris Hallett – 04 0770 4788 (for Dr Mick Adams)
Dewi Zulkefli on 0423 306 381 (for Dr Tamara Mackean)