Date: 
Thursday 21 March 2019

Author

Ms June Oscar AO, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner

This Opinion Piece by June Oscar AO and Rod Little was published by Guardian Australia on Thursday March 21, to mark National Close the Gap Day

When the Prime Minister Scott Morrison tabled the 2019 Closing the Gap report last month, we were again reminded about the lack of progress made to address the inequality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

We know the statistics. They are part of the lived realities that confront our families and our communities across the country.

Today, on National Close the Gap day, we are asking our fellow Australians to remove the deficit lens.

We are asking to be seen as the dynamic, resilient and self-determining people that we are.

We know that there is a lot of work to do, but today, we want to celebrate success and highlight our strengths and achievements.

We want to acknowledge the incredible work being carried out in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across the country.

The 2019 Close the Gap report – Our Choices, Our Voices, prepared by the Lowitja Institute, highlights a number of organisations, making great strides to improve the health and well-being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The stories in our report clearly demonstrate that when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are involved in the design and delivery of the services they need, we are far more likely to achieve success.

The Birthing on Country Project provides Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women access to culturally and clinically safe, inclusive care that incorporates cultural birthing traditions within mainstream maternity services. It is currently piloting two programs;

• South East Queensland in collaboration with Indigenous Urban Health Institute and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Health Services Brisbane and
• Nowra, New South Wales, alongside Waminda South Coast Women’s Health and Welfare Aboriginal Corporation

Northern Territory Aboriginal Health Academy is taking a new approach to education and training. This is a community-led learning model focussed on re-shaping and re-designing the way training is delivered to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander high school students.

IndigiLez Leadership and Support Group offers support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) women.

Yawuru Home Ownership Program was established in 2015 after the Yawuru people in highlighted housing as a key priority.

These stories illustrate that ‘our choice and our voice’ is vital if we are to make gains and start to close the gap.

When decisions are in our hands, we feel good, we feel strong, and we revitalise our health and wellbeing for generations to come.

We have a right to self-determination and full participation in decision-making about matters that affect us.

Last month, the Prime Minister Scott Morrison restated the government’s commitment to work collaboratively in a formal partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

We are pleased moves are being made to formalise that partnership.

We strongly support the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak bodies to work with COAG, as equal partners in the design, implementation and monitoring of Closing the Gap programs, policies and targets.

This partnership really does have the potential to be a game changer. It means active participation in decisions about matters that affect us. It will allow the voices of Indigenous Australians at community, local and national levels to be heard.

This is an opportunity to do things differently.

Indigenous involvement and participation in the co-design of this important national strategy is vital and it really is the only way forward.

As we head towards a Federal election, the Close the Gap campaign is calling on political parties to make a commitment to;

  • Support the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak bodies
  • Ensure more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are employed in the health workforce to ensure that primary health care and prevention measures are culturally safe, to avoid avoidable hospital admissions and premature deaths.
  • Commit a minimum $100 million towards a four-year Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services capacity-building program as seed funding to fill the highest priority service gaps.
  • Commit to a ‘Good Housing for Good Health’ strategy to improve home health and safety for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, including the ‘Housing for Health’ program to eradicate third world diseases.
  • Address systemic racism in the mainstream health system by establishing an Aboriginal Health Authority to oversee service delivery, professional training and policy and accreditation processes that impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and health care.

We genuinely believe that if fully funded and implemented our policy can provide a pathway forward to achieve tangible improvements in life expectancy and other key health indicators.

We know there is an urgent need to close the gap, and the way to do that is to support the work being done by community-controlled organisations. 

We are optimistic that by supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander led initiatives and a commitment to working in genuine partnership, that we can close the gap.

June Oscar AO
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner


Rod Little
Co-Chair National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples


June Oscar and Rod Little Co-Chair the Close the Gap (CTG) Campaign. The Campaign was launched in 2006 to address the unacceptable gap in life expectancy and other health indicators between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians. The Campaign includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak bodies and non-Indigenous health and advocacy organisations. More than 250,000 Australians have signed a pledge supporting the Campaign.

> Click here for the 2019 Report