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AMA takes stand against racism, backs Indigenous constitutional recognition

AMA takes stand against racism, backs Indigenous constitutional recognition - Featured Image

The AMA has thrown its support behind constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians and combating racism, condemning its insidious effects on social and emotional wellbeing.

As the on-field treatment of Indigenous AFL star Adam Goodes intensifies the focus on racism in the community, AMA President Professor Brian Owler said racist attacks were not only immoral but had all-too-real detrimental effects on the health of those who were its targets.

Professor Owler, who attended the Garma Festival at the Northern Territory town of Nhulunbuy in early this month, said the experience of Adam Goodes, who was badly shaken by the incessant booing directed at him by AFL crowds in recent weeks, showed that racism could have real consequences for individual mental health, as well as overall social and emotional wellbeing.

He said this was why the AMA viewed racism as a health issue and was committed to Indigenous constitutional recognition.

“The Aboriginal concept of ‘health’ centres on social and emotion wellbeing – a concept that applies to anyone,” the AMA President said. “Indigenous people face racism on a daily basis. The treatment of Adam Goodes raises an important questions for the nation, for non-Indigenous people, and our commitment to issues such as raising the standards of health, education, and economic outcomes of Indigenous people.”

“It comes back to social and emotional wellbeing. It is about respect for Indigenous culture and their place in the community being recognised and valued.”

In light of this, he questioned Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s decision not to support the development of a consensus Indigenous position on constitutional recognition to help inform a proposed referendum on the issue – a decision that deeply disappointed Indigenous leaders.

Professor Owler warned the Federal Government that its risks derailing its headline Indigenous Advancement Strategy and undermining recent progress in closing the gap by neglecting health issues and sidelining Indigenous leaders and communities.

The AMA President said that although Government efforts to improve school attendance, encourage young people to get a job and to make communities safer, were laudable, by themselves they would not bridge the big gap in wellbeing between Indigenous Australians and the rest of the community.

“Health is essential to learning, to going to school, for training and employment,” he said. “Health must underpin these strategies. The lack of focus on health is one of the reasons why I struggle to understand the Government’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy.”

Professor Owler said there had been real progress in addressing Indigenous disadvantage, including reducing infant mortality, but cautioned the disruption and uncertainty created by last year’s decision to slash $500 million from Indigenous services and programs put recent gains at risk.

“There is clearly a lot of good things that are being done, but we still have an enormous problem, and Indigenous health is one of those areas where you cannot take the foot off the pedal, because the moment you stop you can lose all the gains you have won,” he said.

Last year’s Budget cuts are continuing to resonate. An analysis of the 2015-16 Federal Budget by Menzies Centre for Public Policy Adjunct Associate Professor Dr Lesley Russell found that the share of total health funds being directed to Indigenous health programs will fall to 1.07 per cent this financial year before a minor improvement to 1.13 per cent in 2016-17.

Dr Russell said Commonwealth funding for Indigenous policies as a percentage of total outlays and of GDP was in decline, and that Indigenous organisations were losing out in the competition for funds to deliver Indigenous programs.

Adrian Rollins