The announcement of the implementation of a health plan by the prime minister in his Closing the Gap address to Parliament is a step forward on the long journey to ending health inequality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the Close the Gap Campaign said.
Close the Gap Co-Chair and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Mick Gooda, welcomed Mr Abbott’s commitment to listen to community members and experts, and to continue to support families and reduce harmful behaviours.
‘The implementation of the health plan provides a significant opportunity to address many of the challenges to closing the health and life expectancy gap by improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander access to appropriate health care,’ Commissioner Gooda said.
‘But the work is just beginning. To be truly effective, the health plan must be adequately funded, set targets, develop a comprehensive model of services, map the regions to address gaps against this model and aim to improve access to these core services.
‘If it does this, it will provide an opportunity to create a more systematic approach to closing the life expectancy gap.’
Commissioner Gooda said the language used by the prime minister was encouraging, that without good physical and mental health, it’s hard for children to go to school or for parents to raise a family and live a long and fulfilling life.
‘We therefore expect the federal government to follow through on commitments to Indigenous health and ensure no further budget cuts to this critical area,’ Commissioner Gooda said.
Close the Gap co-chair Kirstie Parker, who is also co-chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, said it was time for the government to match words with action.
‘We’ve heard fine words from governments for seven years now, but we’ve seen diminished funding going to community organisations and Aboriginal community controlled health services – which are the backbone of the health sector and deliver results in terms of better health outcomes,’ Ms Parker said.
She said the Close the Gap campaign’s own report found high numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with undetected treatable and preventable chronic conditions that impacted significantly on life expectancy – such as diabetes and kidney disease.
‘By tackling this and increasing Indigenous people’s access to health services, the government can make great gains,’ she said.
Ms Parker welcomed opposition leader Bill Shorten’s call for the Close the Gap Framework to include a justice target, given the high rate of incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
‘Justice targets are essential; we need them to help reduce the shockingly high imprisonment rate of our people,’ Ms Parker said.
‘There must be a much greater focus on keeping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people out of prison in the first place, given the rate of jailing Indigenous people has almost doubled in the past decade.’