Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People Have the Solutions to Close the Gap
AMA PRESIDENT DR MICHAEL GANNON
We continue to be handed myriad government reports on Indigenous affairs and hear well-meaning words spoken by our political leaders. But, in 2017, we still see governments fail to deliver on their commitments to improve the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The 9th Closing the Gap report, handed down in Parliament House by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on 14 February, reflects the inadequacy of government performance against their own commitment to close the gap in health and life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Whilst there have been some encouraging gains in health and educational outcomes over recent years, the gap in health and life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous remains wide.
Discouragingly, only one of the Government’s seven Closing the Gap targets is on track to being met.How much longer do Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia have to live in disadvantage? How much longer do they need to be sicker and die younger than their non-Indigenous peers? Australia must and can do better.
Positive progress can be made if governments work directly with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and better understand the approaches that work in their own communities. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have long called for, and continue to call for, structured engagement with governments and involvement in decision-making. The AMA recognises the importance of self-determination and fully supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in wanting to take charge of their own lives.
Governments must recognise and value the knowledge and expertise that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have. They must understand that Indigenous people have the solutions and the expertise to deliver. This was made clear in the lead-up to the release of the Closing the Gap report, when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders presented the Prime Minister with the Redfern Statement – a statement that calls on governments to better engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, and contains the solutions to improving health and life outcomes for Indigenous people.
The AMA considers that the current Parliament has an unprecedented opportunity to work closely with Indigenous people and meaningfully address the disadvantage that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experience. The AMA urges the Government, opposition and minor parties to take note of the Redfern Statement and ramp up their efforts to achieve health equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and take further steps in building on existing platforms.
The AMA, along with many others working in Indigenous health, has been campaigning for long-term funding and commitments from government to improve the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We will continue our advocacy to help achieve this goal.
We must find a way to celebrate Indigenous advancement where there is evidence of real improvement. Some gaps remain because of equivalent improvements in the health of non-Indigenous Australians. It is important to avoid a nihilism about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs. We must never consign these issues to the ‘too hard’ basket and we risk that if we do not carefully appraise measures that are working and acknowledge them.
But having only one single Closing the Gap target on track is truly disheartening, and frustrating for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people when their solutions are being ignored. It is imperative that the Prime Minister and his Government act urgently so that we can finally begin to see genuine improvements in health and life outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.