Indigenous health – a model for Closing the Gap

General, Indigenous Affairs, Media Releases, News article written on the 10 Feb 2016

Oxfam is urging the Prime Minister to resist the pressure to overhaul the approach to closing the gap on Indigenous health.

Today, Malcolm Turnbull will report on progress made against targets on Indigenous advantage set by the Council of Australian Governments in 2008 in the annual Close the Gap address in parliament.

Oxfam Australia’s Indigenous Policy Advisor Peter Lewis said the government needed to stay the course on the closing the gap in Indigenous health inequality and more importantly, commit to increasing funding for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector.

“Chopping and changing health policy at this point would be destructive,” Dr Lewis said. “While other sectors are looking for radical solutions, the Indigenous health sector has worked hard over a number of years to develop an effective and engaging model for partnership with Indigenous peoples. This approach is a valuable benchmark for Indigenous engagement across all sectors.”

He pointed to the Implementation Plan for the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan (2013 – 2023) that set out goals and priorities for the next five years, designed by the nation’s high level body for peak Indigenous health organisations, the National Health Leadership Forum (NHLF), in partnership with the government.

“The plan will work if it’s given adequate funding, time and resources. It reinvigorates and refocus efforts to close the health gap through identifying core service models and service gaps, workforce requirements and funding mechanisms, reducing racism and highlighting the importance of culture to improved health outcomes,” Dr Lewis said.

“However, it’s unclear if it will be funded in the 2016 federal budget. If the government is serious about ensuring Indigenous men and women don’t die 10 years earlier than their non-Indigenous counterparts then now is the time to commit to properly funding this plan.”

He said the next 12 months would be a critical period for the success of the Close The Gap campaign, which aimed to achieve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health equality by 2030.

“Over time, successive Australian governments have failed to maintain Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health spending, in line with the rapid growth of the population,” Dr Lewis said.

“Clearly we still have a long way to go, and Closing the Gap requires long-term, concerted efforts by government. We know progress to date has been slow and we must accept that it will take time for health improvements to become evident because it takes time to design, deliver and evaluate quality health programs.”

Oxfam is part of the Close The Gap campaign, made up of more than 20 Indigenous and non-Indigenous organisations, and supported by more than 200,000 Australians. Today the campaign released the Close the Gap Progress and priorities report 2016 in Canberra.

The report also calls for each political party to commit to an additional COAG target to reduce imprisonment rates and increase community safety and introduce a target for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability as part of the Closing the Gap framework.

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