Closing the Gap – 10 Year Review
BY AMA PRESIDENT DR MICHAEL GANNON
This year marks 10 years of Closing the Gap.
Sadly when Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull launched the Government’s Closing the Gap Prime Ministers Report 2018 last month, it came as no surprise that we are not on track to close the life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians.
In fact the Government admitted that it is not on track to close four of the seven targets. Even claiming success over the child mortality target could be optimistic with current Indigenous rates close to the line.
An endless number of authors have proclaimed over the decades, in various iterations, that “the time for action is now”. The AMA even titled its 2003 Report Card on Indigenous Health Time for Action, affirming that “… concerted action is needed now”. But to date, action has been patchy, often uncoordinated and lacking in Indigenous involvement.
The AMA has been producing its Report Card on Indigenous Health for 15 years. In that time we have launched 14 Reports, advocated for Government action on six core issues, and set out no less than 50 recommendations.
Over the same period, there have been countless Government strategies, plans, frameworks, reviews and interventions across every portfolio, all with their own lengthy list of recommendations to address the social issues that disproportionately impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
With all of the research, reviews and recommendations during this time, how are we still seeing such restricted improvements in outcomes for Indigenous Australians?
Disappointingly, the answers lie among the pages of this mounting pile of documents – too many of them lying dormant.
The failure to Close The Gap is disappointing because the Government has had the answers to addressing the continued disadvantage for decades now – long before the Close the Gap campaign held them to account.
The concept of Indigenous self-determination is not new to Australia’s parliamentary members, having been on the national agenda since at least the 1970s. However in practice, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are still waiting to have their voices heard.
The Close the Gap Campaign Steering Committee also handed down its Close the Gap – 10 Year Review report last month, providing a critical review of the Government’s efforts to address Indigenous disadvantage. Its first recommendation was that the Government partner with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities during the ‘refresh’ process.
Just as importantly, the report called for appropriate levels of funding to address Indigenous disparity. We have witnessed decades of rhetoric about funding for Indigenous affairs. Yet the Government expenditure on Indigenous health, while in dollar terms reaching parity, has failed to become commensurate with clinical need.
It also called for the Government to maintain the current targets set in 2008, but complement these goals with measures and reporting on the inputs to achieving the targets, including expenditure on primary health care; addressing institutional racism; growing the health workforce; and building health enabling infrastructure such as housing.
The AMA has a strong history of advocating for process and policy changes that will end the disproportionate disadvantage we see in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. We will continue to call on the Government and industry leaders to unconditionally commit to addressing the social determinants that impact on health outcomes, through the avenues that we know will produce genuine and sustainable change.
It is unacceptable to give up hope of achieving the goals or to claim that the targets are unachievable. We cannot afford to label the situation as hopeless. The lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people literally depend on it.
If the time for action is not now, then when is it?
Published: 14 Mar 2018