Time for health vision to be reality

Time for health vision to be reality

The Prime Minister will deliver her report to Parliament on Wednesday on progress towards closing the gap.

The speeches from Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott offer an unparalleled opportunity for all political parties to restate their commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health equality.

Indigenous Australians still live shorter life spans than other Australians.

Indigenous Australians still live shorter life spans than other Australians.

In this election year, it is vital that all sides of politics at all levels strengthen their commitments to closing the gap by 2030. Long-term commitments to programs and services will provide surety and results that are literally a matter of life and death for our peoples.

While all parties have voiced support for health equality, now is the time to demonstrate how promises will be turned into programs with accountable results.


Why is commitment needed? Isn't enough being done for first Australians? The efforts by government, non-government organisations, communities and individuals are to address simple facts such as babies born to Aboriginal mothers die at around twice the rate of other babies, and then children survive to experience higher rates of preventable illness such as heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes.

Now that the election has been set, and with the budget on the horizon, this fiscal commitment will most likely be announced in due course. These are nervous times because without this commitment by both sides, the prospect of closing the gap within a generation will be lost.

The health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians cannot fall victim to budget cuts or be propped up on short-term drip funding. All parties must support multi-decade commitments that will span policy cycles, funding agreements and governments.

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, is a re-commitment to a National Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap in Indigenous Health Outcomes. The current agreement expires in a few months.

This is the key funding that underpins all of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health programs and services provided by government, as well as by the Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations.

Secondly, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan is due midyear. It is already off to a good start and will serve as a partnership between the government, our community and peak health bodies. The nation expects commitments to be maintained and crucial investment to continue, until we close the gap.

The government's report will highlight some promising signs of health improvements. Those improvements are the core focus of our Close the Gap Campaign - a collaboration of health and human rights bodies. The campaign also publishes our ''shadow report'' on the government's progress.

Under-five mortality rates for first Australians are falling, and child health is improving - and a healthier child population means a healthier adult population.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are also embracing increased personal control of our health, with the successful rollout of Tackling Smoking Initiatives and Chronic Disease Packages, along with increases in health checks.

Similar programs focused on improving diet and raising awareness about chronic disease will also take time and involve generational behaviour change. While these programs must be given the chance to succeed, there is no room for complacency.

We know that change can and does happen where collaboration between the community-controlled health sector and the government exists - where there's genuine partnership.

There is an undeniable groundswell of good will from Australians, with more than 185,000 people supporting the Close the Gap campaign.

Tens of thousands of people are expected to take part in National Close the Gap Day events on March 21. As the day gets bigger each year, it provides hope that as a nation, we want to address this historical indictment.

This year is a critical juncture if we are to close the gap, and although there are many challenges and a long way to go, the finish line is within sight of a generation.

This is the year to hold to the vision of what can be achieved. Time to allow ourselves to be a nation inspired by it - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health equality within our lifetimes, within our generation.

We look to the nation's leaders to take the steps needed to realise this vision. It is also time to ask ourselves, what can I do to help close the gap by 2030?

Jody Broun and Mick Gooda are

co-chairs of the Close the Gap Campaign.