On a day when the ‘Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs’ reports on progress towards Closing the Gap, Oxfam is urging Tony Abbott not to make even more cuts to his government’s investment in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health after $160 million was slashed from the Budget last year.
Oxfam Australia’s Indigenous Policy Advisor Dr Peter Lewis said a decline in the mortality of under-5s and a reduction in smoking rates among the Indigenous population were some of the health improvements expected to be announced today, but he said the closing of the gap in life expectancy between non-Indigenous and Indigenous people was not on track.
“These are promising inroads, but clearly we still have a long way to go, given Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have a life expectancy of 10 years less than other Australians and have much higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease and mental health illnesses,” Dr Lewis said.
“Whilst it is good to see the Federal Government’s prioritisation of education, employment and community safety, we are concerned that inroads into health equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people may be derailed if more cuts are made to funding this vital area.
“The government needs to stay the course and invest in Indigenous health.”
- No more cuts to Indigenous health funding. The cuts of $160 million to Indigenous health last year were not in line with the bipartisan commitment to close the gap;
- Retain the Tackling Indigenous Smoking Program and increase funding, so that smoking rates will continue to decline. This would also in time decrease the rates of related illnesses such as heart disease.
- Better target chronic conditions such as diabetes and kidney disease and improve access to primary health services, by increasing support for Aboriginal community-controlled health services, a major employer of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the preferred choice for many in accessing health care.
“The Indigenous Affairs priorities of this government are safer communities, employment and education,” Dr Lewis said. “But it’s harder to get children to school or adults into jobs if they are sick. Health must remain a top priority if we are to put an end to the ongoing Indigenous health crisis.
“The nation’s generational commitment to close the gap must not depend on who is Prime Minister but be written in the hearts of this generation’s politicians and community leaders.
“It must continue to be a commitment not only in words but in action and in dollars. A critical mass of policy intelligence, an increase in funding and local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander know-how is required to close the gap.
“No matter what is said today, much will depend on the decisions of the Treasurer on Budget night. If Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak organisations and community services again find themselves facing funding cuts, then today will have been full of hollow words.”
Read the report here
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