National Close the Gap Campaign Report 2021
The 12th annual Close the Gap Campaign report entitled, Leadership and Legacy Through Crises: Keeping our Mob safe is a wakeup call to Australian Governments that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have the solutions to health inequality in their grasp.
This year’s report was produced by the Lowitja Institute, Australia’s community controlled national institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research, on behalf of the Close the Gap Steering Committee.
The report showcases the resilience, strengths and leadership of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, communities and organisations throughout critical health crises in 2020: devastating bushfires and climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and the mental health emergency facing First Australians.
The message delivered from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in 2020 is loud and clear: Value our cultures. Engage our leadership. Share the power and let us lead decisions about matters that affect us. We will not fail. This is the legacy that will live on through our children.
When it came to COVID-19, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have completely reversed the gap — currently the number of cases among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is six times lower than the rest of Australia.
Homelands, once threatened with closure by governments, became some of the safest places in Australia due to the quick action and leadership of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
2020 showed that strong health outcomes and significant reform can be achieved through strengths-based community-led action when there is matching political will to support it.
The work and leadership of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples throughout 2020 is showcased in the 2021 Close the Gap report through case studies from across Australia that focus on:
- Culturally empowered solutions to protecting communities from COVID-19: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Group on COVID-19, Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services (KAMS), Central Australian Aboriginal Congress (CAAC)
- Asset-based and Holistic Approaches for addressing climate change and protecting Country: Waminda/Katungul Aboriginal health services, Seed Mob, Aboriginal Carbon Foundation
Resilience and Protective factors for social and emotional wellbeing: Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO), Transforming Indigenous Mental Health and Wellbeing research project, Gayaa Dhuwi (Proud Spirit) Australia, ALIVE & Kicking Goals! Youth Suicide Prevention Project.
It is the position of the Close the Gap Campaign to focus on strengths-based success. This is not a denial or oversight of the systemic racism, short-term funding cycles and poor infrastructure and other issues that blight the lives of First Nations Peoples. Rather it is a rejection of deficit-based policies and culturally unsafe systems that reduce Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities to ‘problems’ or ‘statistics’ rather than solutions.
The events of 2020 also exposed underlying risks and pre-existing systemic inequalities, such as housing overcrowding, food insecurity, an inequitably distributed health workforce that was stretched to capacity, and racism in the health system and emergency responses that puts the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples at risk.
Beyond the crises, this past year has seen the signing of the new National Agreement on Closing the Gap – a potential gamechanger for how governments work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and rising public awareness of systemic racial inequality.
In contrast there has also been continued political inaction on the Uluru Statement from the Heart and youth incarceration, reckless destruction of the 46,000-year-old sacred site at Juukan Gorge, the continuation of cashless welfare card trial, and lack of action on the climate crisis.
The 2021 Close the Gap report has 15 recommendations for structural reform and strengths-based, community driven approaches to crisis adaptation and response. They include to:
- fully implement the Uluru Statement from the Heart and fully fund the Close the Gap National Agreement
- learn the lessons from successful policy and program structures, partnerships and funding arrangements that saw Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders and communities lead the way — nationally and globally — in COVID-19 responses and outcomes
- raise the age of criminal responsibility immediately and nationally, from 10 years old to 14 years old
- establish, fund, monitor and evaluate a National Anti-Racism Strategy to address the systemic racism exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, 2019–20 bushfires response and the Black Lives Matter movement
- make health and other services culturally safe and build the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce
- embed cultural knowledge, land management and conservation practices into national climate change mitigation efforts and address specific issues and implications for Indigenous people, including housing and water and food security.
Quotes and grabs from the 2021 Close the Gap report.
“Value our cultures. Engage our leadership. Share your power and let us lead decisions about matters that affect us. We will not fail. This is the legacy that will live on through our children.”
“The rapid response to COVID-19 shows what can be achieved when the right level of political will is deployed. This is what is needed to address systemic racism and the over-incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”
Climate change presents a unique, and growing, risk to not only the physical health, but also the spiritual and mental health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The people of the Torres Strait Islands are already seeing the effects of a changing climate on the local flora and fauna and feel that their physical and cultural lives are under threat.
“Climate change is suffocatingly real yet our governments’ responses to the hottest of issues, the survival of all Australians and our planet, are tepid at best.”
June Oscar and Karl Briscoe, Close the Gap Campaign Co-Chairs.
Mainstream services are often not sufficiently equipped and skilled to respond effectively to the complex and unique needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
To view the report click here: 2021 Close the Gap Report.
The report will be launched via webinar, on National Close the Gap Day – today hosted by the Australia Institute in support of the Close the Gap Campaign.
Minister Wyatt is now on board and Dan Bourchier from the ABC will host the conversations.
12:00 PM AEDT (ACT, VIC, NSW, TAS)
11:30 AM ACDT (SA) / 11 AM AEST (QLD)
10:30 AM ACST (NT) / 9.00 AM AWST (WA)
The webinar is free, but registration is essential – to register click here.
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