The release of the Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report today shows that despite some gains, we still have a long way to go, with persistently high rates of disability and chronic disease in Aboriginal people and increasing rates of self-harm and incarceration.
Incoming National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) Chairperson Matthew Cooke said he was concerned about the impact of policies being proposed by state and federal governments, such as the GP co-payment and closure of remote Aboriginal communities, and a failure to re-commit to joint, coordinated efforts such as through National Partnership Agreements.
“We must celebrate the significant gains that have been made in areas such as infant mortality and life expectancy which are the result of concerted efforts across all levels of government over a number of years,” Mr Cooke said.
“We need continued investment if we are to close the gap further in these and other areas.
“National Partnership Agreements have lapsed, the COAG Reform Council has been disbanded and we don’t have anything in place of either to ensure the focus stays on improving the health and well being of Aboriginal people.
“The Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report also reveals the shocking increase in levels of psychological distress, self-harm and suicide in Aboriginal communities.
“The solution to these issues lies in building strong and resilient communities by reinforcing localised decision making, encouraging cultural identity and fostering connection to Country.
“Shutting down remote communities and forcing Aboriginal people to move to other communities, such as is being proposed in Western Australia, will only make matters worse.
“We also need greater consistency and resourcing on the ground for delivery of Social Emotional and Wellbeing (SEWB) programs. Where these are in place in our services they are reaping results as evidenced by a report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare into Aboriginal community controlled services.
“The fate of many of the SEWB programs currently lies with the Federal government’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy and we call on the government to make the right decisions to ensure these successful programs continue.”
Mr Cooke said the lack of progress in tackling the high levels of chronic disease and disability emphasises the importance of making primary health care as culturally appropriate and accessible as possible.
“Our sector remains very concerned about the impact of the proposed GP and PBS co-payments. We need to encourage Aboriginal people to have regular check ups and manage their health conditions properly, not add barriers to them seeking the health care they need.
“Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services are making inroads in getting Aboriginal people in the door to see a doctor or specialist and manage their chronic health conditions. They also employ and train large numbers of Aboriginal people – as seen in the recent NACCHO economic benefits report.
“Better support for, and expansion of, our services would help to reverse some of the poor health statistics we see in todays report over the long term.”