This year’s Close the Gap report has highlighted the excellence of leadership that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers and leaders can provide, if only they are given the opportunity to do so by all levels of government.
Entitled Leadership and Legacy Through Crises: Keeping Our Mob Safe, this year’s report, produced by the Lowitja Institute and launched earlier today (March 18), made 15 separate policy recommendations to improve the broader health of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.
While key among them was the call for “long term (10 year +), needs-based and coordinated cross-sectoral funding” from federal, state and territory governments to the National Agreement on Close the Gap and other key health agreements, several proposed measures called for intervention in other areas of political policy.
Among such recommendations, were the full implementation of the Uluru Statement of the Heart and the recommendations included in the Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women’s Voices): Securing Our Rights, Securing Our Future report and raising the criminal age of responsibility from 10 to 14 years of age.
Further recommendations in the report addressed areas such as the climate emergency, systemic racism, environmental and cultural protection (citing the events that occurred last year at Juukan Gorge) as well as investment in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community workforce.
Speaking at the launch of the report, which was hosted as an online webinar by the Australia Institute, Dr Janine Mohamed, the CEO of the Lowitja Institute, drew attention to the report’s focus on leadership qualities that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have displayed on several fronts, mentioning the COVID-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the growing toll of the climate crisis.
“We believe our report is a wake-up call to government, and that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have the solution to the health inequity gap that we experience, and it’s well within our grasp, if we were only allowed to lead,” Dr Mohamed said.
Pointing out that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were six times less likely than the rest of the Australian population to contract COVID-19, Dr Mohamed said the report highlighted both the strengths that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people bring to the table, and the systemic restrictions that prevent progress.
“The report shines a light on the policy environment that… so many other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, communities and organisations work in; the enablers and the barriers to our work in closing this gap,” she said.
“It’s a snapshot of excellence, and a blueprint for the future, recognising that we have many crises still in our midst, and many more that may emerge.”
These sentiments were also borne out in the respective opening and closing statements of the webinar, delivered by Close the Gap co-chairs, June Oscar AO and Karl Briscoe, who is also the CEO of the National Association of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers and Practitioners (NAATSIHWP).
Both speakers focused on the need for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to drive discussion in this area.
“To reach these outcomes, takes partnerships,” Ms Oscar AO, who is also the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, said in her opening statement.
“Governments cannot deliver this on their own, but together as trusted collaborators, we can do this, and that is the promise of Close the Gap.”
Mr Briscoe used his closing remarks to connect this process back to the report.
“The report reinforces how effective and critical self-determination is in improving the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” he said.
“It highlights that achieving positive, lasting change requires a formula that is too simple to ignore: Value our culture, engage our leadership, share the power, and let us lead decisions about matters that affect us.”
The Australian Institute’s webinar was MC’ed by ABC journalist Dan Bourchier, and also featured speeches from the federal minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, and Sir Michael Marmot, Chair of the WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health.
The full version of this year’s Close the Gap report, the 12th such edition, is available to read here.