Close the Gap report shows First Peoples’ resilience shines during crises: Oxfam

Campaigns and Advocacy, Indigenous Affairs, Media Releases article written on the 18 Mar 2021

Responding to the 2021 Close the Gap report, Leadership and Legacy Through Crises: Keeping our Mob Safe, released today – on National Close the Gap Day – Oxfam Australia’s First Peoples Program National Manager, Ngarra Murray, said:

“Across Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders and communities achieved an incredible feat last year, by standing strong, keeping COVID-19 at bay, and ensuring the safety of some of our most at-risk citizens.

“COVID-19 presented a particularly severe threat to First Peoples communities due to the ongoing social and health impacts of colonisation and racist government policies, such as over-crowded housing and other health issues.

“Incredibly, the number of COVID-19 cases among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is now six times lower than the rest of Australia, and not a single person in the community has died from the virus.

“The fast action, leadership and grassroots-level coordination of First Peoples-led health services ensured remote communities, once threatened with closure by governments, became some of the safest places in Australia.”

The report also documents the leadership and innovation of Aboriginal communities in dealing with the bushfire and mental health crises.

For example, despite a lack of specific funding, the Yuin people on the NSW South Coast turned their health services into relief centres, while in Victoria, the VACCHO peak body conducted the first Aboriginal-led evaluation of reforms to mental health services.

“This report – led by the Lowitja Institute and supported by Oxfam – highlights the incredible resilience and ingenuity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in innovating and leading the implementation of solutions for their own communities,” Ms Murray said.

“We already have the solutions to ‘close the gap’ within our grasp – we just need governments to empower our communities to keep leading the way in facing the challenges of our times, so they can continue to deliver outstanding results.”

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Notes to editor:

  • The report focusses on the challenges of COVID-19, the 2020 bushfires and the ongoing crisis in First Peoples mental health. It is being launched at a webinar today to mark National Close the Gap Day, which Oxfam has supported since its inception in 2007.
  • The report acknowledges the health issues affecting the First Peoples of Australia, which reflect the legacy of dispossession, inter-generational trauma and ongoing racism. The campaign co-chairs June Oscar and Carl Briscoe write in the Foreword that Australia remains the only Western country that has failed to eliminate trachoma (preventable blindness), while the Indigenous youth suicide rate remains four times that of other Australian youth.
  • In responding the East Coast bushfires, the report found that Aboriginal health services played a critical role even though they weren’t given additional funding, staffing or surge capacity. A scoping study by the Australian National University in partnership with Katungul found that inferior and culturally unsafe services were provided by some mainstream services and charities during the bushfires, and that shocking racist incidents occurred at times.
  • Addressing the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the report documents Aboriginal-led initiatives to address the mental health challenges that often reflect the past trauma and marginalisation experienced by First Peoples.