Will COAG deliver on Indigenous health?

Campaigns and Advocacy, Media Releases article written on the 01 Jul 2009

The Close the Gap campaign will be watching tomorrow’s Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting in Darwin to see if governments commit to genuine partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
For the first time, COAG is holding a meeting with a focus on Indigenous issues.
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 community-led Close the Gap campaign, praised the Australian government for the COAG initiative.
“This meeting is important because it not only includes a focus on Indigenous health but also addresses the social and cultural determinants that contribute to good health and wellbeing,” Commissioner Calma said.
However, Mr Calma said money alone was not enough and that closing the unacceptable life expectancy gap would not happen unless COAG supports four critical measures:
• COAG must ensure Indigenous Australians are able to participate in all decisions regarding their health needs. This should not be left to government-appointed advisory bodies and committees alone;
• Federal and State Governments must develop a comprehensive, long-term plan of action to ‘close the gap’. That plan must be targeted to where the needs are and based on clear evidence;
• Governments must work together to invest time and money into the fundamental prerequisites to good health – quality housing, employment and education;
• Governments must increase funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled health services, not only in remote areas, but also in urban and rural areas.
“The Federal Government and the Opposition signed on the dotted line in March last year to work in genuine partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to achieve equality in health status and life expectancy by the year 2030, and to develop a long-term plan of action,” Mr Calma said.
“The Close the Gap campaign partners now look forward to COAG implementing this commitment.”
Dr Mick Adams, chair of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO), the peak body for community controlled Aboriginal health services, said: “By working together as partners with good will and understanding between governments and Aboriginal peoples, we can start closing the gap in health outcomes and quality of life.”
“NACCHO welcomes recent investments in rural and remote health services and in the Northern Territory especially. We also look forward to appropriate resourcing for the Aboriginal community controlled health services, providing culturally appropriate health care to the 50 per cent of the Aboriginal population living in urban areas,” Dr Adams said.
Associate Professor Tamara Mackean, President of the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association, also welcomed the Indigenous focus of this COAG meeting. “The meeting represents a unique point in time where all the issues, from policy, resource allocation, community engagement and models of practice, can all be addressed,” she said.
“Let’s hope also that the importance of funding and training an Indigenous health workforce is acknowledged as a critical part of our efforts to Close the Gap.”
Oxfam Australia Executive Director Andrew Hewett said: “With more than 130,000 people pledging their support for ending Indigenous health inequality, the Australian public will be looking to this COAG for further progress in order to ‘close the gap’.
“We welcome the fact that Australian governments are sitting down at COAG to discuss how to close the gap. But for real progress to occur what government needs to do is sit down with Aboriginal people and communities. They know their communities best, and they need to be involved in decisions being made about their health and wellbeing.”
Please contact: Louise McDermott – 0419 258 597 (for Tom Calma); Chris Hallett 0407 704 788 (for Dr Mick Adams); Laurelle Keough – 0409 960 100 (for Andrew Hewett).