Australian governments must join forces with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations to urgently address the national shame of a widening life expectancy gap for our nation’s First Peoples.

Close the Gap Campaign Co-Chair and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar AO said the strategy began with great promise but has failed to deliver.

“The life expectancy gap has in fact started to widen again and the Indigenous child mortality rate is now more than double that of other children,” Commissioner Oscar said.

“This is a national shame and demands an urgent tripartite health partnership. This must be high on the agenda at tomorrow’s COAG meeting.”

Last year, the Prime Minister reported that six out of the seven targets were ‘not on track’. Since then, the Federal government has announced that the COAG agreed Closing the Gap Strategy would go through a ‘Refresh’ process.

Close the Gap Co-Chair, and Co-Chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples Rod Little, says the refresh process is the last chance to get government policy right, in order to achieve the goal of health equality by 2030.

“The Close the Gap Campaign is led by more than 40 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous health and human rights bodies. No other group can boast this level of leadership, experience and expertise. We stand ready to work together with Federal, State and Territory governments. We have the solutions.”

“You must get the engagement on this right. No half measures. No preconceived policies that are imposed, rather than respectfully discussed and collectively decided,” he said.

Commissioner June Oscar said the Federal Government must lead national efforts to reset the Closing the Gap approach. The Commonwealth has the overriding responsibility for primary health care and it is not investing enough to see this improve. States are spending almost double the rate of the Commonwealth.

“The national architecture of health equality efforts – the Closing the Gap Strategy – has suffered from unrealised potential, and an unravelling in recent years.”

“There is now little in the way of a coordinated response to the health of our peoples, and the Federal Government, working with the States and Territories must change this,” she said.

Commissioner Oscar said that the Federal Government was not living up to its leadership responsibility, allowing the Closing the Gap in Indigenous Health Outcomes National Partnership Agreement to expire, and under-investing in the national effort.

“The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population have, on average, 2.3 times the disease burden of non-Indigenous people. Yet on a per person basis, Australian government health expenditure was $1.38 per Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person for every $1.00 spent per non-Indigenous person in 2013-14.”

“We need real investment, commensurate with need, genuine national leadership, and a reset architecture, otherwise we will fail to close the gap,” she said.

Commissioner Oscar said that this national leadership role did not let States and Territory governments off the hook noting that it was time for them to reaffirm their commitments made via the Close the Gap Statement of Intent.

“We want to see Premiers, Chief Ministers, Health and Indigenous Affairs ministers in every jurisdiction providing regular, public accountability on their efforts to address the inequality gaps in their State or Territory.

“No more finger pointing between governments. A reset Closing the Gap Strategy should clearly articulate targets for both levels of government and be underpinned by a new set of agreements that include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, their leaders and organisations,” she said.

The Close the Gap Campaign Co-Chairs have warned that without a recommitment, the closing the gap targets will measure nothing but the collective failure of Australian governments to work together and to stay the course.

“While the approach has all but fallen apart, we know that with the right settings and right approach, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people leading the resetting of the Strategy, we can start to meet the challenge of health inequality, and live up to the ideals that all Australians have a fundamental right to health,” the Co-Chairs said.

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You can download a copy of the review here https://www.humanrights.gov.au/our-work/aboriginal-and-torres-strait-isl...

Media Coverage

ABC - Closing the Gap review finds policy 'effectively abandoned' amid 'extensive funding cuts'

The Guardian - Closing the Gap health goals 'effectively abandoned' for political reasons 

SBS - 'Almost a full retreat': Damning review finds Closing the Gap policy 'effectively abandoned'