Close the Gap planning and partnership welcome, but significant health data gaps remain

Campaigns and Advocacy article written on the 15 Feb 2012

The Close the Gap campaign congratulates the Federal Government for its agreement to work in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on a national plan to close the gap in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life expectancy, but says inadequate data collection on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health still needs to be urgently addressed.

Today the Close the Gap Campaign releases its own report on progress towards closing the gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians in areas such as health, employment and education.

Close the Gap co-chair Jody Broun, also the co-chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, said the past year had seen some significant achievements and that there was cause for cautious optimism but not complacency.

“It appears Governments are on track to halving the infant mortality rates for children under five, and also in ensuring access to early childhood education in remote communities. We also note the literacy and numeracy targets are generally on track,” Ms Broun said.

She said the Close the Gap Steering Committee would monitor progress of the Australian Government’s closing the gap programs throughout 2012, paying particular attention to the partnership underpinning the health equality planning process.

“The approach to this partnership must enable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their representatives to drive the planning effort and participate in all significant decision-making,” Ms Broun said.

“It must be genuine partnership; then the right plan will follow.”

However, she said the Government must urgently improve its ability to measure the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life expectancy gap at more regular intervals than currently possible, in order to get an accurate picture of its progress in meeting the closing the gap targets.

Currently, the methodology for calculating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life expectancy relies on the Census for verification.

“It’s absolutely vital that Australian governments are able to provide Indigenous life expectancy estimates at time intervals shorter than five or more years, otherwise how are we to gauge the effectiveness and efficiency of health programs to close the gap?” Ms Broun said.

Together with this, the Close the Gap Campaign is calling for the closing the gap health programs to be adequately funded past 2013 when the agreement expires.

Social Justice Commissioner and Close the Gap co-chair Mick Gooda said there was cause for ‘cautious optimism’ that the gap may be closing in some areas.

“However, this is a long-term effort and we need to ensure we don’t take our eye off the ball with short-term funding, and we need the tools to measure progress,” Mr Gooda said. “Much more progress needs to be made on reducing the number and proportion of low birth weight babies than is currently the case, as there are signs this number may be increasing.”

Read the report

Media contact: 0457 877 408 for Jody Broun and 0419 258 597 for Mick Gooda