NACCHO Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health News: We have to move on with CTG

Feature tile image of Face of Pat Tuner; text '“There’s been a huge focus on the Voice. But now that’s done and dusted, we have to move on with closing the gap.” Pat Turner AM'

The image in the feature tile is of Pat Turner AM from an article Pharmacy move ‘too risky for Indigenous’ published in The Australian on Friday 3 February 2023.

The NACCHO Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health News is a 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.

“We have to move on with CTG”

The first story of the ABC News 7.30 Report last night (Tuesday 31 October 2023) looked at the fall out of the Voice referendum. ABC Indigenous Affairs Editor Bridget Brennan said the stunning defeat of the Voice referendum leaves a policy vacuum and has heightened existing trauma in communities across the country, “Many Aboriginal families still live in abject poverty and there is no national representative group that can advise government. Indigenous leaders say that the status quo cannot continue.”

NACCHO CEO and Lead Convenor of the Coalition of Peaks (which is made up of dozens of the major Indigenous organisations across Australia), Pat Turner AM is concerned the referendum has taken focus off policies needed to close the gap, “There’s been a huge focus on the Voice. But now that’s done and dusted, you know we have to move on with closing the gap. I’ve met with every cabinet in Australia, accept the Albanese cabinet which I’m hoping to do before we meet again in national cabinet.”

“I think that the government needs to show its confidence in Aboriginal Australia and the efforts that we’ve made, especially in closing the gap now. I’m sick to death of process, I’m sick to death of red tape, I want the rubber to hit the road and the money to get in at community level.”

You can listen to the ABC News 7:30 Report here, with Pat Turner speaking from 9:22 minutes.

ABC &:30 Report tile text 'Referendum Rejected' Tuesday 31.10.23

Image source: ABC News, 7.30 Report.

Voice rejection feels deeply personal

On Wurundjeri country, in a meeting room in Collingwood, black, red and yellow helium balloons still hang from the roof — remnants of a referendum party that ended in heartbreak. For Jill Gallagher, a Gunditjmara leader and longtime advocate for Aboriginal rights, the rejection of a Voice for her people still feels deeply personal and “disheartening”.

On October 14, dozens gathered at VACCHO, as the referendum results rolled in on the television. The atmosphere quickly became “dismal”, says Gallagher. “There were a lot of tears. It was devastating for me personally as an Aboriginal woman who’s 67 years old. I’m thinking, where to now?” “Where to now” is a universal question being asked in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across the country in the wake of the failed Voice referendum.

For Gallagher, who has seen her fair share of heartbreaks and setbacks in Aboriginal politics, the repudiation of constitutional change is a moment for soul-searching. As a vocal Yes campaigner in Victoria, she says she was exposed to a “nasty” campaign — hate mail, racism and misinformation swirling on social media. But she is also outspoken on the failures in the Yes camp to launch a successful campaign to educate Australians on what a Voice could have achieved. “We left our run late … we needed to start doing work [earlier in the year]. How many of our citizens out there fully understood what this Voice was? Not a lot.”

To view the ABC News article Inside the delays and disagreements that doomed the Yes campaign ahead of the Voice referendum in full click here.

VACCHO CEO Jill Gallagher with t-shirt 'You're the Voice' & colleagues at a Vote Yes gathering

VACCHO CEO Jill Gallagher, centre, and colleagues supporting the Voice. Photo: VACCHO. Image source: Croakey Health Media.

APA committed to better health outcomes

The Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) had acknowledged the recent Voice to Parliament referendum outcome and reaffirmed its commitment to reconciliation and improved health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. While the referendum did not yield the desired result, the APA remains hopeful that all Australians share the aspiration to bridge divisions and create a brighter future.

This referendum was not our sole opportunity for healing and the APA is committed to truth telling, cultural bravery and improving health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. First Nations peoples face significantly higher health disparities, including psychological distress and suicide rates. Racism and exclusion are clear contributors to these disparities.

The APA advocates for evidence-based, community-led approaches to health for First Nations peoples. Despite our differences, fairness and respect must unite us. We must address the unacceptable gap in health outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The stark disparity in health outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians is indefensible. We believe that Australians, regardless of their backgrounds, would unite in agreement that this gap must be closed.

To read the Australian Physiotherapy Association media release APA’s response to Voice referendum outcome in full click here.

art developed for APA's RAP by proud Gameroi man; text ' APA Position Statement: Voice to Parliament'

Image source: Physio Australia Instagram post 30 March 2023.

Professor Sandra Eades’ blueprint to CTG

Renowned Australian researcher Professor Sandra Eades has celebrated the contribution 50 years of Aboriginal Community Controlled Primary Care Services has made to Indigenous health, but warned there is still more to be done – and at an earlier stage – to further improve outcomes. Speaking to more than 1,000 clinicians during her keynote address at the World Organization of Family Doctors (WONCA) World Conference last week, she referenced her own 40-plus-year experience at the Derbarl Yerrigan Health Service in Perth, where she began as a work experience student before working her way up to the board.

A Noongar woman from SW Australia, Professor Eades noted that Aboriginal Community Controlled Primary Care Services now provide more than three million episodes of care annually to more than 400,000 people, and used it as an example of what First Nations-led care can achieve. “In the spirit of self-determination and having control over their own futures, the first of these clinics were established,” she said.

Ongoing research collaborations through her role as a head epidemiologist at Melbourne University’s School of Population and Global Health have also exposed lingering areas for improvement. Some of this research has focused on Aboriginal Community Controlled Primary Care Services, which Professor Eades noted offer numerous benefits, including improved patient engagement with specialist clinics and increased cervical screening uptake. They are also effective at diagnosing and treating infectious diseases such as syphilis and hepatitis C with high rates of cure.

To view the RACGP newsGP article Professor Sandra Eades’ blueprint to Close the Gap in full click here.

Noongar woman Professor Sandra Eades

Noongar woman Professor Sandra Eades. Photo: Don Lindsay. Image source: The West Australian.

Australia is NOT an egalitarian society

Many Australians have access to quality housing, health care, education and employment options. Many of us can afford to spend discretionary income on entertainment, travel, exercise, food and even art. We take an active role in our democracy. But that is not the complete story of Australia. Nowhere in our constitution does it say all Australians are equal. The word egalitarianism is not mentioned. There is no Australian Bill of Rights empowering us all to equally claim our freedoms. Those of us who have worked in the corrections system know freedom and justice in Australia often has a price tag.

When we talk about Australia being the place of the fair go, an egalitarian place where we all have a chance to succeed, we downplay both the advantages of wealth and the disadvantages of poverty. Australia is a wealthy nation, but our wealth is not distributed equally. The Australian tax system favours those who invest over those who work for a living. In practice this means our capacity to make money depends partly on whether we already have access to money. Not only are poorer Australians more likely to stay poor, they will also live shorter lives.

There is a “dramatic difference in preventable deaths between the top and bottom 20% of income earners, with poorer Australians living up to 6.4 fewer years than the wealthiest Australians. And the gap appears to be widening. Poorer Australians are more likely to be affected negatively by economic shocks and climate change. Having suitable housing, being able to afford an electric vehicle or rooftop solar, and paying for expensive insurance cover are all measures wealthier people can put in place to reduce the costs or direct effects of climate change. Most of these options are beyond the reach of those in the bottom 20% of income earners. Cost-of-living increases disproportionately affect the bottom 20% of income earners. They spend much more of their income on necessary food, energy, transport and housing.

To view the Institute of Community Directors Australia article It’s time to call it out – Australia is not an egalitarian society in full click here.

Veronica Lulu in wheelchair outside inaccessible house, Mulan - edge Great Sandy Desert

57-year old Veronica Lulu, remote Aboriginal community of Mulan, WA. Photo: Aaron Fernandes. Image source NITV.

Blue trees to counter more than blues

Air Force personnel in Derby, WA worked with local communities to highlight mental health through art recently. As Air Force Safety Month draws to a close, personnel recognised that mental health is integral to ensuring the overall safety and effectiveness of the service and the communities it serves. Personnel from across Australia yarned with traditional owners and school students about mental health and painted a tree blue as part of the Blue Tree Project.

The Blue Tree Project seeks to change the way people speak about mental health, by sparking difficult conversations and encouraging people to speak up when battling mental health concerns. By spreading the paint and yarning, aviators and Aboriginal health workers committed to help break down stigma attached to mental health. Group Captain Glen Storrar, Officer Commanding the Health Services Wing, said “Maintaining good mental health supports our overall physical health, our ability to deal with the daily challenges of service life and our readiness to operate in potentially uncertain environments. We all have a role to play in looking after our fellow aviators and to encourage them to seek help if and when they need it.”

At a special event focused on mental health, Air Force personnel learned that remote communities and Indigenous Australians grapple with distinctive mental health challenges. The Department of Health considers mental health is responsible for 10 per cent of the health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Indigenous Australians can experience a higher incidence of mental health conditions, substance abuse and suicide. While reported prevalence of mental illness in rural and remote Australia is similar to that of major cities, access to mental health services is substantially more limited than in major cities and rates of self-harm increase with remoteness.

More information is available on the Blue Tree Project here. To view the Australian Government Defence article Blue trees to counter more than blues in full click here.

An Air Force aviator and Derby community members paint a tree in support of the Blue Tree Project

An Air Force aviator and Derby community members paint a tree in support of the Blue Tree Project. Image source: Australian Government Defence website.

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