Thousands join chorus to CLOSE THE GAP

Campaigns and Advocacy, Media Releases article written on the 30 Mar 2009

Thousands of Australians will take part in events to mark the third annual National Close the Gap Day on Thursday 2 April, to urge State and Federal Governments to end the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health crisis.
More than 400 events taking place in schools, workplaces, shopping centres, community halls, churches and public spaces throughout the country include bush tucker days, Indigenous music performances, school children spelling out CLOSE THE GAP, preview screenings of the new Indigenous film Samson and Delilah, mural painting and Aboriginal community controlled health service open days.
Chair of the Close the Gap steering committee and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma, whose 2005 Social Justice Report laid the groundwork for the Close the Gap campaign, said the day was about celebrating the achievements of the campaign to close the 17-year gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
“More than 130,000 people throughout the country have signed the pledge that urges action from all levels of government,” Mr Calma said.
“The government really came on board in March 2008 when it signed the Statement of Intent, along with the Opposition, Indigenous and non-Indigenous experts and the reconciliation movement, to work together to achieve equality in health status and life expectancy between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians by the year 2030.”
In November, the Council of Australian Governments committed $1.6 billion in new health funding – the biggest ever injection of new funding for Indigenous health. But Mr Calma said the Rudd Government now needed to develop a comprehensive National Action Plan in partnership with Indigenous Australians.
National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) CEO Dr Mick Adams said the statistics on Indigenous health were compelling: around twice as many Indigenous infants died before their first birthday as non-Indigenous infants.
Meanwhile, cardiovascular disease is around 2.5 times higher for Indigenous Australians, respiratory disease is almost four times higher and pneumonia is three times higher. These all contributed to the 17-year life expectancy gap.
“When there is a true collaboration between governments with our organisations in the development and implementation of programs that we believe are needed, that will be the time when the gap in health status will begin to close,” Dr Adams said.
Oxfam Australia Executive Director Andrew Hewett said ongoing community support was vital if the Government was going to be kept accountable on their commitment.
“Working in partnership and increasing Indigenous participation in health services and decision-making has proven to be a successful recipe for closing the gap by 12 years for Maoris in New Zealand and nine years for native American Indians in the United States,” Mr Hewett said.
Contact Louise McDermott for Tom Calma – 0419 258 597; Chris Hallett for Dr Adams – 0407 704 788; Laurelle Keough for Andrew Hewett – Laurelle Keough on 0409 960 100