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Issue #1720      February 24, 2016

Health a top priority for Gap campaign

The Close the Gap campaign has called for more investment in Indigenous health and for that funding to be directed to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations. The “Close the Gap – Progress and priorities report 2016” was tabled in Federal Parliament on February 10, with campaign co-chairs Jackie Huggins and Mick Gooda leading its release.

And the report recommends adding a justice target to the CTG measures and also for more consideration of Indigenous people with disabilities. The campaign steering committee has called for clear nationally coordinated action to reduce inequalities in health between Indigenous people and other Australians.

“The message from the Close the Gap campaign is clear,” the steering committee wrote. “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health inequality is an issue of growing national concern. We can and want to be the generation that closes the gap but we must stay the course and keep our attention and resources focused on this goal.

“The health gap has rightfully been described as a stain on our nation, and this generation has the opportunity and responsibility to remove it.” The report calls for appropriate funding and an overall increase in resources directed towards Indigenous health.

It also asks for a rethink of the federal government’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS). “Another area of concern for the Campaign Steering Committee is the impact of the IAS on the social determinants of health. The Campaign Steering Committee believes that the IAS should be nationally coordinated along with state and territory governments, and demonstrate how it will contribute to achieving the Close the Gap targets.”

The report makes the explicit recommendation that the government address last year’s recommendations, implying that there has been little or no action.

And the Steering Committee repeats last year’s call for a justice target to be added.

However, federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion has consistently opposed a justice target. “The argument for this makes no sense because the Australian government has no lever it can pull to reduce incarceration rates, other than addressing the fundamental building blocks to disadvantage,” he said. “The criminal justice system is a state and territory responsibility and the Commonwealth has no business interfering with the judiciary.”

The report asks for consistency and a calm response, pointing out that apparent slow progress in closing the gap in life expectancy is to be expected, as the benefits of recently-implemented health improvements will take years to measure.

“The Campaign Steering Committee continues to counsel governments to consider the generational effort that is required to attain health equality, rather than chop and change approaches based on an unrealistic appreciation of the health gains possible only a few years after an initiative is introduced,” the report says.

“Because of the lead times between the design and roll out of programs, and for improvements to be measured, analysed and reported, and then accrue as improvements to life expectancy, the high level health impacts of the Closing the Gap Strategy should not be expected to be measured in data until at least 2018.”

The steering committee points to figures showing more Indigenous people using health care, but says there is still a way to go before parity is reached with the rest of the population.

It also says that while Indigenous people’s access to medicines has improved, there needs to be more flexibility and coordination between pharmaceutical schemes.

The Close the Gap report names Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) as preferred primary health care providers to Indigenous communities, saying they give better health outcomes and are more effective at providing culturally competent care.

“Achieving health equality by 2030 is an ambitious yet achievable task,” it said. “It is also an agreed national priority. With well over 200,000 Australians supporting action to close the gap, it is clear that the Australian public demand that government, in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their representatives, build on the close the gap platform to meet this challenge.

“They believe that we can and should be the generation to finally close the appalling life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous Australians.”

Koori Mail

Next article – CSG battle hots up

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