“Our nation is at its best when it comes together in shared spirit of achievement and a shared desire to achieve a common goal,” said Close the Gap Campaign Co-Chair and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda.
On 12 February in the nation’s parliament, political leaders joined with members of the Close the Gap Campaign Steering Committee to reiterate their shared ambition to close the unacceptable health and life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians by 2030.
The day began with the Close the Gap Campaign hosting a parliamentary breakfast to launch the Campaign’s 2014 progress and priorities report.
The report noted some positive outcomes in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health including reductions in smoking rates and improvements in childhood and maternal health.
It can be expected that these outcomes will flow into increases in life expectancy over time. The report emphasised that it is critical that the national effort to close the gap continues as a national priority.
Coalition MP Ken Wyatt and Labour Senator Nova Peris launched the Canberra event, which was also addressed by the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Australian Greens. They provided their support for the campaign and reiterated their shared determination to close the gap and achieve life expectancy equality by 2030.
At least 60 MPs and Senators also attended, together with members of the Close the Gap Campaign steering committee, members of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council, senior bureaucrats and other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stakeholders and leaders.
Campaign Co-Chairs Mick Gooda and Kirstie Parker outlined the critical next steps to achieve health equality.
Ms Parker, who is also the Co-Chair of the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples told guests: "When it comes to the national effort to close the gap, we speak with one united voice. And our voice is supported by the over 200,000 Australians who have asked governments to join us and make this issue a matter of national priority.
“I look around this room and I see a room full of committed politicians, of bureaucrats, of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander advocates and stakeholders. And in our presence here I see we are united in the common belief that we are the generation to close the health and life expectancy gap.”
Mr Gooda said: “With 16 years to go, we need to build on these successes. We must see the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan implemented in partnership with our peoples and we must secure coordinated national funding for our efforts.
“The best mechanism to achieve this is the through the renewal of the National Partnership Agreements. In our report we call on the Australian Government to take a leadership role in this regard.”
The Campaign’s breakfast was followed by Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s report to parliament on progress towards closing the gap.
In his address, the Prime Minister said: “There is probably no aspect of public policy on which there is more unity of purpose and readiness to give others the benefit of the doubt. On this subject at least, our parliament is at its best. Our duty is to make the most of this precious moment.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten emphasised the bipartisan nature of the efforts to close the gap.
“Closing the Gap should not be an achievement that belongs to a Coalition government or a Labor one, but indeed a monument to the decency, compassion and imagination of the modern Australia,” Mr Shorten said.
This annual reporting to parliament has become an important tradition that keeps the efforts to close the gap on the national agenda.
Pictured is the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, with Kirstie Parker and Mick Gooda. Photo courtesy of Arthur Mostead/OxfamAUS.