With an early Federal Election looking likely, it’s time to encourage all political parties to focus on Aboriginal health and the critical role of the community controlled sector in improving services and health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The Turnbull Government has flagged it will call a Double Dissolution Election on July 2 if the Senate refuses to pass the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) Bill, targeting unions. The Prime Minister has until May 11 to call the poll.
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A decade after governments agreed to bipartisan support for the Close the Gap agreement, the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) Chairperson, Matthew Cooke, said long term commitment from politicians to strengthen and grow the community controlled sector, through partnership with it, must be a priority for all political parties.
“One of the principles that is espoused by all levels of government on Aboriginal issues is that engagement with Aboriginal communities and organisations is the only way to successfully close the gap,” Mr. Cooke said.
“Time and again we see evidence that supports that principle.
“Our own sector, managed by Aboriginal people for Aboriginal people, is making the biggest in-roads against the Closing the Gap health targets.
“Our services provide over two million episodes of care nationally each year and have made the biggest gains against the targets to halve child mortality and improve maternal health. “
“Indeed, our services have successfully contributed to the Close the Gap targets that have reduced child mortality rates by 66% and overall mortality rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by 33% over the last two decades.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s Healthy Futures Report Card (2015) also highlights ACCHOs’ continued improvement in other areas that measure good practice in primary health care.
Those improvements include increasing the proportion of regular patients who are recorded as having an MBS health assessment; patients with existing conditions who are immunised against influenza; and, patients with Type 2 Diabetes receiving MBS General Practice Management Plans and MBS Team Care Arrangements.
“The fact is, Aboriginal people prefer health care that is holistic and provided in a culturally sensitive environment and that’s why our service delivery model works,” Mr Cooke said.
“Too many Aboriginal people have experienced racism and judgement in the mainstream health system, along with a very clinical approach to health care that doesn’t recognise connections to community and country.
“The holistic approach to health that operates in the Aboriginal Community Controlled sector takes a broader look, considers the range of complex issues affecting health and includes educating patients and preventative measures.
“And it works.”
Mr Cooke said he’d like all parties to commit to a roadmap to extend the reach of Aboriginal health services to ensure more Aboriginal people in more areas can access Aboriginal Community Controlled health care.
“Our services are struggling to meet the demand,’ Mr Cooke said.
“We know many Aboriginal people are driving many kilometers, often past several mainstream service providers, to access the culturally safe care offered by our services.
“Many miss out altogether as they don’t have access to a service where they live.
“Expanding the Aboriginal community controlled network would help improve the health outcomes for Aboriginal people.
“It would mean refocusing the heath system a bit – and a better allocation of the funding pie, ensuring long-term funding certainty, fairer tendering processes and faster decision making by government departments.”
“I believe there’d be real rewards in terms of better health outcomes for Aboriginal people for that effort. ”
Mr Cooke said that approach is confirmed by the Productivity Commission Report released at the end of last year on the National Indigenous Reform Agreement Performance Assessment 2013-14.
“That Report showed mainstream services have not proved they can deliver better outcomes than our sector,” he said.
Mr Cooke said Aboriginal people would also be looking closely at commitments around the Government’s controversial Indigenous Advancement Strategy, which saw the transfer of important Aboriginal health programs to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
See story Page 4 :Indigenous Advancement Strategy report: Abbott-era indigenous cuts went too far, Senate inquiry
That Strategy’s tendering process drew heavy criticism from respondents to a recent Senate Inquiry.
“The Aboriginal controlled health sector is not afraid of contestability, in fact it welcomes it,” Mr Cooke said. “Yet that was a patently unfair process that didn’t consider results on the ground.”
Mr Cooke said overall he was optimistic about the possible outcomes an election could bring.
“There is a real opportunity in an election campaign to hear the commitments of future governments to Aboriginal people.
“We are hopeful all parties will make Aboriginal health a priority and work with us toward reducing the persistent health gaps between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.”
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*The National Diabetes Scheme is an initiative of the Australian Government administered by Diabetes Australia.
NACCHO chair encourages our award winning health services
Youngsters at the Indigenous Governance Awards winning Institute for Urban Indigenous Health: Photo Wayne Quilliam
National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation Chair Matthew Cooke is encouraging all of its 150 member services to enter this year’s Indigenous Governance Awards (IGA).
This year the awards will celebrate organisations that are developing local solutions to local problems with culture as a source of strength and innovation and no one does it better than our Aboriginal community controlled health services said Mr Cooke.
One of the NACCHO/QAIHC members, the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health in Brisbane, became a finalist last year for its ‘Work it Out’ and ‘Deadly Choices’ programs, which was a major achievement giving they were only in their fifth year of operation. This recognised how the programs impacted on the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in South-East Queensland,” he said.
This is only one of many potential award winning health services that should be encouraged to enter these prestigious awards “ Mr Cooke said : Applications for the Awards close on May 20 : visit www.reconciliation.org.au/iga/ for more information