The Prime Minister will today deliver her report to parliament on progress towards closing the gap.
Today’s parliamentary speeches from the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader offer an unparalleled opportunity for all political parties to restate their commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health equality.
In this election year, it is vital that all sides of politics at all levels strengthen their commitments to closing the gap by 2030. Long-term commitments to programs and services will provide surety and results that are literally a matter of life and death for our peoples.
While all parties have regularly voiced support for health equality, now is the time to confirm their election platforms and demonstrate how promises will be turned into funded programs with accountable results.
Why is commitment needed? Isn’t enough being done for First Australians?
The efforts by government, NGOs, communities and individuals are to address simple facts such as babies born to Aboriginal mothers die at around twice the rate of other babies, and then children survive to experience higher rates of preventable illness such as heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes.
Now that the election has been set, and with the budget on the horizon, this fiscal commitment will most likely be announced in due course. These are nervous times because without this commitment by both sides, the prospect of closing the gap within a generation will be lost.
The health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians cannot fall victim to budget cuts or be propped up on short-term drip funding. All parties must support multi-decade commitments that will span policy cycles, funding agreements and governments.
Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, is a re-commitment to a National Partnership Agreement (NPA) on Closing the Gap in Indigenous Health Outcomes. The current agreement expires in a few months.
This is the key funding that underpins all of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health programs and services provided by Government, as well as by the Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations.
Secondly, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan is due mid-year. It is already off to a good start and will serve as a partnership between the Government, our community and peak health bodies.
The nation expects commitments to be maintained and crucial investment to continue, until we close the gap.
The Government’s report will highlight today some promising signs of health improvements. Those improvements are the core focus of our Close the Gap Campaign – a collaboration of health and human rights bodies. The Campaign also publishes our ‘Shadow Report’ on the government’s progress today.
Under-five mortality rates for First Australians are falling, and child health is improving – and a healthier child population means a healthier adult population.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are also embracing increased personal control of our health, with the successful rollout of Tackling Smoking Initiatives and Chronic Disease Packages, along with increases in health checks.
Similar programs focused on improving diet and raising awareness about chronic disease will also take time and involve generational behaviour change. While these programs must be given the chance to succeed, there is no room for complacency.
We know that change can and does happen where collaboration between the community-controlled health sector and the Government exists – where there’s genuine partnership.
There is an undeniable groundswell of goodwill from everyday Australians, with more than 185,000 people supporting the Close the Gap campaign around the country.
Tens of thousands of people are expected to take part in National Close the Gap Day events, this year on March 21. As the day gets bigger each year, it provides hope that as a nation, we want to address this historical indictment.
2013 is a critical juncture if we are to close the gap, and although there are many challenges and a long way to go, the finish line is within sight of a generation.
This is the year to hold to the vision of what can be achieved. Time to allow ourselves to be a nation inspired by it – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health equality within our lifetimes, within our generation.
Today, and in the coming weeks and months, we look to the nation’s leaders to take the steps needed to realise this vision. It is also time to ask ourselves, what can I do to help close the gap by 2030?
By Close the Gap Campaign co-chairs Jody Broun and Mick Gooda.
This opinion editorial first appeared in The Canberra Times on 6 February 2013.
The Close the Gap Steering Committee members are: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation; Australian Indigenous Doctors’
Association; Australian Indigenous Psychologists’ Association; Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses; Indigenous Allied Health Australia Inc.; Indigenous Dentists’ Association of Australia; National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation; National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers’ Association; National Association of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Physiotherapists; National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples; National Coordinator – Tackling Indigenous Smoking ; National Indigenous Drug and Alcohol Committee; The Lowitja Institute; Torres Strait Island Regional
Authority; Australian College of Nursing; Aboriginal Health and Medical
Research Council; ANTaR; Australian Human Rights Commission; Australian Medical Association; Australian Medicare Local Alliance; The Fred Hollows Foundation; Heart Foundation Australia; Menzies School of Health Research; Oxfam Australia; Palliative Care Australia; Royal Australasian College of Physicians; Royal Australian College of General Practitioners