NACCHO Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health News: How the Voice could make a real difference for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health

The image in the feature tile is from Croakey Health Media.

The NACCHO Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health News is platform we use to showcase the important work being done in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, focusing on the work of NACCHO, NACCHO members and NACCHO affiliates.

We also share a curated selection of news stories that are of likely interest to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector, broadly.

How the Voice could make a real difference for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health

Strong health arguments for the Voice to Parliament were presented at two recent webinars hosted by the Lowitja Institute and the Our Collaborations in Health Research national network for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers. Indigenous health leader Adjunct Professor Mark Wenitong said the Voice offers the chance to finally break down silos in policy and practice and put Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health issues at the level of government where decisions are made. Mr Wenitong told the webinar he would be voting Yes because a Voice offers a new way to address intractable health issues like rheumatic heart disease (RHD) in remote Aboriginal communities. He said despite Indigenous health organisations having long sought to address social determinants of health, it is difficult to address RHD until health, housing and education portfolios came together to act.

Former long-standing Lowitja Institute chair and now co-patron, and one of the architects of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, Pat Anderson urged participants to “try cut out the noise” surrounding the referendum, saying that as health and health research professionals, they knew better than anybody the relationship between good health and a good society and happy people.

Ms Anderson said the referendum will “tell us what kind of people we are in Australia: what do we stand for and what are our values?”

Lowitja Institute CEO Adjunct Professor Janine Mohamed said disinformation surrounding the Voice was ‘racially gaslighting’ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Ms Mohamed raised concerns that many non-Indigenous allies did not realise, because of social media algorithms and a media focus on division, the breadth of support for the Voice from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, with polling consistently showing at least 80% support it. Ms Mohamed said she completely understands that “a lot of our mob don’t trust governments” because they’ve been let down too many times.

“But I do trust our people and I have deep, deep faith that, when our people are at the table, we will see improvement in many outcomes,” she said.

Read the full Croakey Health Media article here.

From top L: Adj Prof Mark Wenitong, Selwyn Button, Tarneen Onus-Browne, Adj Prof Janine Mohamed. Image source: Croakey Health Media.

“When they had that voice, it was remarkable” – Fiona Stanley on The Deep End podcast

Fiona Stanley, AC FAA FASSA, is an Australian epidemiologist noted for her public health work and research into child and maternal health, as well as birth disorders such as cerebral palsy. She is a Distinguished Professorial Fellow in the School of Paediatrics and Childcare at the University of Western Australia. She became Founding Director of the Telethon Kids Institute In 1990 and still serves as its Patron. Her contributions to Indigenous Australian health have been nothing less than transformative and she has contributed profoundly to training a whole generation of Indigenous Australian health practitioners and professionals.

On the podcast The Deep End with Marcia Langton and Aaron Corn, Ms Stanley discussed how she feels about the Voice to Parliament. She spoke on her excitement about the referendum stating that, “I could think of no better way for Australia to now stand up and say, ‘this is going to be our nation deciding moment for acknowledging our history.’

“I think the best an only way forward is this Voice,” she said.

“…I think this is the most important and exciting thing that has happened to us, quite possibly in my lifetime.”

Ms Stanley pointed to data and the NACCHO and community led response to the pandemic as an example of what happens when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices are listened to.

“Aboriginal people had the best result in the world.

“When they had that voice, it was remarkable.

“I don’t know why more people aren’t swayed by that argument,” she said.

Victorian Aboriginal Elders Summit

The theme of day two of the Victorian Aboriginal Elders Summit was Respect. In line with the theme, discussions focused on what matter to our Elders, beginning with the revitalisation of Victorian Aboriginal languages. Aunty Vicki Couzens addressed the summit in language, and shared how the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for languages has been working tirelessly to celebrate and replenish our knowledge of language. In a panel discussion with Rosales Martinez, Aunty Gina Bundle, and Aunty Cheryl Drayton, a call to action was made to increase collective advocacy for the revitalisation of language.

The afternoon session was spent in deep discussion about aspirations for the future of Aboriginal Community Controlled Aged Care. A call was made for an urgent expansion of funding for ACCHOs to provide greater access to non-profit community-controlled aged care services, including assessments, in-home and residential services.

Image source: VACCHO Facebook.

Remote Aboriginal community wins legal right for safe drinking water for all NT tenants

The NT Supreme Court ruled this week that the public housing landlord is legally required to supply safe drinking water to its tenants. In 2019 residents of the remote community of Laramba, west of Alice Springs took their landlord, the NT Chief Executive Officer (Housing), to the NT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NTCAT) over concerns about their drinking water, which contained uranium at levels three times the maximum safe level set out in the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines. The NTCAT found the landlord was not responsible for providing safe drinking water to its tenants. That decision was overturned by the NT Supreme Court on Monday.

Advocates said the decision “resolves a legal black hole wherein no government department or agency accepted responsibility for providing safe drinking water to people living in remote communities” and “opens an avenue for the estimated 250,000 Indigenous people who are currently unable to reliably access safe and healthy water, to seek legal redress and compensation”.

Read the full National Indigenous Times article here.

Image: Esther Linder (AAP).

Next generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers

Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District’s Koori Kids Futures work experience program is helping launch local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander high school students’ careers in health. The latest cohort of year 10 and 11 students completed an immersive three-day program where they enjoyed rotations across a variety of hospital and health services. Throughout the week, students had the opportunity to experience clinical settings, talk to health professionals about their work and gain hands-on learning.

One student said, “It was one of the best experiences I’ve had. It has confirmed my passion for medicine, and I fully intend to pursue a career in medicine.”

A total pf 27 students have taken part in the program this year. Acting Aboriginal Employment Coordinator, Natalie Boncales said offering Koori Kids as a career pathway into health remains an important part of their commitment to Closing the Gap.

“We’ve had a number of successes with Koori Kids over the years and we know it’s an excellent program that provides young Aboriginal people with a pathway into pursuing a career with our local health services.”

Read more here.

Image source: NSW Government.

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