Dear Prime Minister:Time for the health vision to be a reality :Todays Closing the Gap speech

Close The gap

“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.”

Source Canberra times 6 February

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.

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.

  </iframWhy 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

The NACCHO chair Justin Mohamed is the Co Chair with Jody Broun on the National Health Leadership Forum

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