Health inequality between Indigenous and other Australians is a stark reminder of the great divide in our nation, and a cause of terrible suffering and grief
Reposted from a story in theguardian.com, Tuesday 11 February 2014 19.25 EST
Our nation is at its best when it comes together in shared spirit of achievement and a shared desire to achieve a common goal.
In 2008 we witnessed such a moment. Our political leaders came to the fore in a demonstration of leadership, putting aside partisan politics. The Australian public joined them. And as a nation we united to take a stand.
Together we agreed that this would be the generation to close the unacceptable health and life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians.
We committed to close the health and life expectancy gap within a generation: by 2030. As a result we now have a national effort to close the gap, a priority for government action until the goal is met.
Health inequality is a stark reminder of a great divide in the nation across education, income, housing, mental health, chronic disease, child and maternal health, access to health services, and more. It is a scar of an unhealed past and a stain on the reputation of the nation. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, it is an immense and unnecessary burden of suffering and grief.
But we are optimistic that we can make real inroads into our shared goal if we continue to place a high priority on it. At a government level this means renewing the national partnership agreement on closing the gap in Indigenous health outcomes and forging an implementation plan for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health plan in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
We must remember that despite times of fiscal austerity Australia is enormously wealthy nation with very high standards of health and life expectancy. However, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders do not share the same standards of health.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are all too aware of this. Often our children have attended dozens of funerals by their early teens. Our elders are denied longer, healthier lives, and our communities are all the poorer for it.
The Close the Gap campaign was touched directly by this harsh reality early on in the campaign. In 2009, just two years after the campaign was launched, Clarence Paul from Mornington Island whose photo with his grandson became an iconic campaign photo passed away at age 48. This is 31 years fewer than the average life expectancy for non-Indigenous Australians.
The campaign contacted Mr Paul’s family to ask if they would like us to stop using the photo that had become the defining image of what the campaign was all about.
The response was instant and clear – the nation must stop the passing of our mob prematurely. We must as a nation achieve health equality for our people. We were told that the campaign should continue to use Mr Paul’s image to help with the national effort to close the gap.
The photo stands as a memorial to a much loved uncle, father, grandfather, brother, son and respected community member. It stands as a reminder of the task at hand. We thank his family for the inspiration they provided the campaign in those early days.
Five years later, we continue to work with all sides of politics and engage the public in our efforts. Last year, six years into the campaign, 972 community events involving 140,000 Australians were held on national close the gap day in 2013. Today, almost 200,000 people have joined us in this effort.
We are starting to see some progress – there are reductions in smoking rates and improvements in maternal and child health. We must build on these. Turning around Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health equality requires a concerted national effort over years. It requires continuity and diligence. And it requires investment.
Achieving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and life expectancy equality by 2030 is an agreed national priority. 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 gap. We should all live up to the challenge that Clarence Paul’s family set us – stop our mob from dying prematurely.