NACCHO health news: Fiona Stanley: the secret to improving Aboriginal healthcare


“Who knows and cares most about Aboriginal health? We do. So give us the funding and the knowledge and partner with us to enable us to be responsible for our own health and wellbeing.”

Ted Wilkes

When Noel Pearson launched The Quiet Revolution, the book of Marcia Langton’s 2012 ABC Boyer Lectures, he had the audience in the palm of his hand for almost an hour.

Pearson spoke quietly and clearly about pathways to being “bourgeois”, as he called himself. “Why can’t Australians be proud of us being middle class? Why can’t non-Aboriginal folk in Australia support us in our quest to be part of an elite, to own our own homes and participate in the Australian economic and social fabric?” he asked.

This is an edited extract from essay “On the ground: Key to successful policy outcomes” in GriffithREVIEW 41, available now.

Extract from the Griffith Review Via Crikey

It was a great talk that explored the creation of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander middle class. Even if you heard the lectures, read the essays — the power of the words on the page put paid to the simplistic criticism that they were just a defence of the mining industry. This is a part of a much bigger project, a transformation, that for the first time means First Nations people are being trained and employed in all areas of the Australian workforce. And doing so in ways that retain and share their culture with others.

Both Noel Pearson and Marcia Langton are unapologetically part of the Aboriginal elite. Like W.E.B. Du Bois in the US a century ago, their cool analysis and forthright advocacy discomforts those with a rusted frame for thinking about First Nations people, one that consigns them to intergenerational underachievement.

Du Bois believed that the top 10% of any culture or population group is the vanguard that brings others along and around them. Born in 1868, three years after the end of the American Civil War, Du Bois was the first African-American to receive a doctorate from Harvard (and also later from Berlin) and one of America’s first sociologists to use large social surveys to examine the circumstances of people living in disadvantaged urban areas. His idea of the “talented tenth” was based on the notion that groups like the African-American population needed leaders with the very best education (his doctorate was in classics, philosophy and science) and this leadership would propel the success.

He established the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in America, but left his homeland as a result of the Joseph McCarthy witch-hunts and died, at 95, in Ghana, a few days before Martin Luther King Jr gave his “I have a dream” speech. He was enormously influential in fighting for full civil rights in America but earned the enmity of radicals who favoured more direct action.

Langton’s essays are as bold, and potentially transformative, as Du Bois’ writings were a century ago. She writes:

“Indigenous participation in education systems and the economy are the main pathways out of the miserable conditions that produce ongoing disadvantage and reduce Aboriginal capacity to enjoy their rights as first Australians and citizens of one of the richest nations on earth.”

Well, they could be transformative if non-Aboriginal Australians really heard the messages on these issues. As she writes:

“The majority of Australians have remained ignorant of the reasons for the high levels of disadvantage that Indigenous people face, both because the reasons are complex, and because there is a wealth of misinformation as well as irrational belief about Aboriginal people in circulation.”

Langton is not party political, and she believes that these issues should not be politically divisive and “the truth is always much more complicated than the policy positions of governments, parties and campaign offices would have us believe”.

At the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research we made a commitment to employing and training as many First Nations researchers as we could, with the aim of giving the Aboriginal research agenda to them. Well-respected, nationally recognised elder Ted Wilkes put it simply:

“Who knows and cares most about Aboriginal health? We do. So give us the funding and the knowledge and partner with us to enable us to be responsible for our own health and wellbeing.”

It was clear he understood the social determinants of health better than anyone, so we concentrated on changing the culture within the institute to enable Aboriginal leadership to grow.

“Engaging Aboriginal people in the development of programs and methods results in them getting exactly the services they need, in their environments and for their unique circumstances.”

Sandra Eades joined the Institute as a PhD student in the mid-1990s, where she became one of the first First Nations people to secure a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) grant as leading chief investigator. She employed an outstanding group of Aboriginal health workers as research assistants to conduct a longitudinal study of first-time Aboriginal mums and their babies in urban Perth. This group of researchers proved  Wilkes’ approach.

The study successfully enrolled the mothers, and the institute was able to follow their babies in ways that would not otherwise have been possible. It was a true partnership between those with different types of knowledge. Its success convinced the institute that employing and training First Nations researchers and using their methods was essential for the success of the research agenda.

All these health workers-turned-researchers had been trained by another pioneering First Nations Westen Australian health professional, Dr Joan Winch, who set up Marr Mooditj, the first Aboriginal health worker training program in Australia.

Eades had a huge influence on the NHMRC with her roadmap for supporting Aboriginal health research. One brilliant idea from that and other public health strategic planning was Capacity Building Grants to redress this neglected area. In 2005, the Institute won the first such grant in Aboriginal health, with a team of 10 Aboriginal investigators: Michael Wright, Ted Wilkes, Helen Milroy, Sandra Eades, Ngiare Brown, Juli Coffin, Dawn Bessarab, Jan Hammill, Cheryl Kickett-Tucker and Glenn Pearson.

Over the five years of the grant most completed their PhDs and all have become leaders. A group of them, plus Pat Dudgeon and Rhonda Marriott, formed the group of eight chief investigators who subsequently secured NHMRC support for a Centre of Research Excellence in Aboriginal Health and Wellbeing: From Marginalised to Empowered.

I recall helping to write this grant only to have it totally rewritten by the Aboriginal chief investigators. They were committed to a different paradigm of research methodology than mine. They wanted to conduct their own research projects with full engagement with Aboriginal community groups, shifting the power for participation at every stage — from the planning through to data collection, interpretation and implementation. I had instead written a good NHMRC quantitative application hoping that once we got the grant we could incorporate these more qualitative approaches.

I warned that NHMRC was not ready for such a radical proposal. I was wrong. The whoops of joy when they succeeded raised the roof.

There are two major changes in this approach — the first is to truly engage with the people who are the intended recipients of the services that are needed. This demands familiarity with a well-developed, internationally accepted set of methods known as ‘community participation action research’. There are well-established ways to do this, which have been used with the “Untouchables” (Dalits) in India and the First Nations in Nunavut (Canada). As a result, service delivery has been revolutionised.

It is not rocket science, but grounded in a self-evident truth: most of us only use the services we trust, that we feel we have some control over and that benefit our families and ourselves.

Aboriginal people in this country have little experience of exercising such a fundamental power over the services deemed appropriate for them. For many decades these services have been shaped by distant experts who thought they knew best.

Engaging Aboriginal people in the development of programs and methods results in them getting exactly the services they need, in their environments and for their unique circumstances. It also provides jobs, an additional advantage to them, which adds to the efficacy of the services. Aboriginal people will travel across the metropolitan area to attend an Aboriginal-controlled service.

This means that while the overarching principles of services can be developed centrally by government agencies — for example, early childhood learning is good for children to be ready for school, or complete vaccination prevents childhood infections, or sugary foods and drinks should be avoided to prevent type 2 diabetes — the way that these services are implemented should be done in collaboration with those who will be affected, the people themselves. Otherwise they simply do not work.

NACCHO political alert: Internet access and Cyber-Safety for Aboriginal Australian

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Cyber-Safety Committee presents final report

Parliament’s Cyber-Safety Committee has called for a wide ranging inquiry into how Indigenous Australians are accessing and using the internet, in the report of its inquiry into Issues Surrounding Cyber-Safety for Indigenous Australians which has been tabled in Parliament.

The committee found that many Indigenous Australians, particularly those who live in remote regions, lack access to the internet for various reasons. 

As most non-Indigenous Australians gain internet access and go online, people who do not have internet access are at particular risk of being left behind.

The committee’s brief inquiry into issues surrounding cyber-safety for Indigenous Australians concluded that a far-reaching inquiry should be conducted during the next parliament to investigate all aspects of ICT access and use by Indigenous Australians.

Where internet access is available, research suggests that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are even more enthusiastic users of the technology than the mainstream community, demonstrating the importance technology can play in maintaining Indigenous social networks.

“The Committee took evidence that smartphones best suit the needs of many Indigenous people who require a transportable internet platform. This allows for individual management and prepayment of bills while avoiding shared bills in households,” chair Senator Catryna Bilyk said.   

Submissions to the inquiry also identified an urgent need to raise digital literacy among Indigenous Elders and other seniors to help them to manage mobile enabled cyber-bullying and other threats in remote communities.

“The relative newness of the technology and lack of digital literacy amongst older people makes it difficult for Elders and others in community leadership positions to respond effectively to cyber-safety issues in remote communities,” Senator Bilyk said. 

For further information on the inquiry visit the committee’s website or phone the Secretariat on (02) 6277 4202.

NACCHO press release:West Australia confirms funding to Close the Gap


The West Australian Government must be recognised for committing to the National Partnership Agreement as many states are yet to even do that despite it running out on June 30. It is also pleasing to see them commit to measures to improve Aboriginal mental health,” .

The $31million announced by the West Australian Government to Close the Gap will assist Aboriginal health services and other stakeholders in the delivery of comprehensive primary health to maintain the delivery of services for a further twelve months with the hope that a further three years of funding be committed to in the new year.

The National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) Chair, Justin Mohamed, said Aboriginal health outcomes were too important to be put at risk and other states and territories also need to urgently commit to their fair share.

“The West Australian Government must be recognised for committing to the National Partnership Agreement as many states are yet to even do that despite it running out on June 30. It is also pleasing to see them commit to measures to improve Aboriginal mental health,” Mr Mohamed said.

“It is well recognised that closing the gap on Aboriginal health – where life expectancy can be a shocking ten to seventeen years gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians – will take a generational commitment.

“In 2008 all state and territory governments signed up to the National Partnership Agreement and committed for four years to concentrate on improving chronic disease and other health issues in Aboriginal communities.


“This commitment has started to see some positive results  – child mortality rates in particular are dropping.

“This is very encouraging and shows that the programs are seeing real results on the ground.

“There needs to now be an ongoing, long-term approach that guarantees certainty to Aboriginal health services across Australia so they can continue to deliver what is needed to make a difference in their communities.”

The Aboriginal Health Council of Western Australia (AHCWA) today also commended the establishment of the committee comprised of several Cabinet members which will analyse the WA close the gap program and ensure its key objectives are being met.

“We are pleased that some funding commitment has been delivered and welcome the evaluation across all government departments around where money is being spent across Western Australia,” Vicki O’Donnell, Chair, AHCWA said.

“In the past four years the National Partnerships Agreement funding has created more than 300 jobs and delivered dozens of services to Indigenous Australians and helped in remote areas which didn’t have access to health services. It is important this good work continues.”

Media contact: Colin Cowell 0401 331 251, Olivia Greentree 0439 411 774

NACCHO press release :Download the Closing the Gap progress report: small steps make ongoing commitment vital

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Closing the Gap on track: but more to be done

The National Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) today welcomed the Closing the Gap Progress Report findings as confirmation that the program is working, but that there is still more to be done to ensure that the gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and other Australians does not widen.

DOWNLOAD the COAG reform Council report here

 Included below Close the Gap and AAP news press release

Download NACCHO Media Release here

NACCHO Chair, Justin Mohamed (pictured above) , said that it was imperative to continue the good progress made in halving the gap in child death rates, improving early childhood education and year 12 or equivalent attainment.


“The Close The Gap programs are working towards achieving their goal, and improving the health and life expectancy of Aboriginal Australians,” said Mr Mohamed.

“The 150 Aboriginal community controlled health organisations (ACCHOs) that NACCHO represents continue to work to improve Aboriginal health and wellbeing across the board at a local community level, providing over 75 per cent of the work on-the-ground to Close The Gap.

“While we have seen vast improvement in child death rates, more must be done to address the overall mortality rates.

“The death rates of Aboriginal Australians have seen little change. The main cause of deaths for Aboriginal Australians is circulatory disease – attributed to the high level of tobacco usage, poor diet, physical inactivity and hypertension.

“It’s imperative that Close The Gap gets long term investment from governments, rather than just three or four year funding phases, to ensure that they have resources to deliver these vital services.

“The National Partnership Agreement hangs in the balance – which means some of these programs are on a precipice – whilst the Federal Government has renewed its commitment, States and Territories are lagging behind.

“We need Aboriginal health and Close The Gap to be a priority for all governments that goes beyond party politics. These programs which have taken a foothold must be allowed to continue to grow and build momentum so that Close The Gap can continue to improve Aboriginal peoples’ health and chances in life.

“Aboriginal ill-health and mortality rates present a grim picture – one that is out of step comparative to other Australians.

“Close The Gap is about improving outcomes for Aboriginal people, but unless these vital programs get ongoing funding, our chance at increasing life expectancy and health for Aboriginal people narrows.

“Aboriginal comprehensive primary health care provided by Aboriginal communities is the key to making a difference to Aboriginal health outcomes,” said Mr Mohamed.

Closing the Gap progress report: small steps make ongoing commitment vital

Australia is on track to halve the gap in child death rates between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians but a much greater effort is needed to achieve equality in life expectancy by 2030, an independent report has found.

Close the Gap campaign co-chairs Mick Gooda and Jody Broun welcome the positive results in relation to lowering the child mortality gap

Mr Gooda said addressing child mortality is critical in efforts to close the gap and will help drive improvements in life expectancy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

However, Mr Gooda said more needs to be done because Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are still dying at nearly twice the rate of other Australians.

“The reduction in the death rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children is a real step forward, but there is long way to go to improve child health outcomes more broadly.

“The good news is that 91% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in remote communities are enrolled in a preschool program and the new attendance target is welcomed.

“We believe the improvements outlined in this report point to what’s possible when we have co-ordinated and long term action from all governments,” Mr Gooda said.

The findings, released today, are part of a report prepared for the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) on behalf of the COAG Reform Council. The report assesses the progress of Australian governments against the Closing the Gap targets on education, employment and health.

Ms Broun said it is essential that all governments recommit to the National Partnership Agreement (NPA) on Closing the Gap in Indigenous Health Outcomes as a matter of urgency.

“We call on all Australian Governments to put greater effort into closing the life expectancy gap by 2030,” said Ms Broun.

“So far, the Federal and Victorian governments have renewed their funding commitment to the NPA. We urge all other Australian governments to commit to the future health of our people through a renewed NPA.

“In this federal election year, it’s important to remember that the Closing the Gap agenda is a truly multi-partisan national project which must be backed by multi-decade commitments spanning policy cycles, funding agreements and governments”, she said.

National AAP news coverage

MORE action is needed to close the life expectancy gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians to meet the 2031 target, a national report warns.

The life expectancy gap is 11.5 years for men and 9.7 years for women.

In 2008, federal, state and territory governments agreed on six targets to tackle indigenous disadvantage in life expectancy, health, education and employment.

Only the Northern Territory is on track to close the life expectancy gap, according to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Reform Council report released on Wednesday.

Heart attacks and strokes were the most common cause of Aboriginal deaths.

Death rates had declined in Queensland, but not at the needed pace, while NSW and South Australia were not on track to achieve the target, the COAG report said.

Western Australia’s indigenous death rates had also dipped, but the state had not set a target.

 The report noted progress in reducing the death rates of Aboriginal children aged under five.

But it found half of indigenous mothers were still smoking during pregnancy.

Literacy and numeracy skills of indigenous children were also lagging behind, the report said.

On efforts to increase indigenous employment, it said only NSW had seen some improvement.

The early childhood education target to improve access to preschool for all indigenous four-year-olds in remote communities is expected to be achieved this year.

The federal government accepted the COAG report’s recommendation to set a new target to boost attendance levels in preschool programs.

Year 12 completion rates for indigenous children had improved, and WA, SA, NT and ACT were on track to meet the 2020 target, the report said.

National Congress of Australia’s First People spokesman Les Malezer said the small improvements in the report were welcome, but it also came as a warning that more work was needed.

He reiterated a call for a justice target, to reduce the high representation of Aboriginal people in Australian j


NACCHO Aboriginal health dental news:Poor dental health impacting on Aboriginal mums


University of Adelaide researchers are calling for a greater sensitivity towards Aboriginal women in dental clinics and improved accessibility to dental care.

Read and download NACCHO’s  recent Dental submission to the House of Representatives

Reproduced Health News

This follows research that finds pregnant Aboriginal women are a vulnerable population who suffer from multiple dental health and social problems.

Associate Professor Lisa Jamieson, Director of the Indigenous Oral Health Unit at the University of Adelaide, studied 446 women pregnant with Aboriginal children and found that:

  • they were six times more likely to need a tooth extraction than those in the general population;
  • they were twice as likely to need fillings;
  • more likely to visit the dentist because of dental pain;
  • nearly two-thirds avoided dental care because of cost; and
  • four our of every five women would have difficulty paying a $100 dental bill.

In addition to their oral health problems, Associate Professor Jamieson studied social factors impacting on the women.

She found that nearly 90% were unemployed, almost half did not own a car, more than one third had five or more people staying in their house, a large proportion already had four or more children, and more than two-thirds of the women also cared for children who were not their own.

“Aboriginal women are experiencing profound social and oral health inequalities compared with the rest of society. This is a group that we really need to worry about,” Associate Professor Jamieson says.

“Poor oral health in mothers can place developing and newborn children at risk. For example, pregnant women who have missing or sore teeth feel that they are unable to eat certain foods. This food avoidance means they’re often not getting the nutrients they or their baby need.

“Also, although babies are born without bacteria in their mouths, if the mother’s oral health is poor, she can pass her bacteria onto the baby at an early stage. The baby’s teeth are attacked by bacteria from the mother as the teeth are coming through. This is a serious situation at an early age.”

Associate Professor Jamieson says there should be a greater awareness of the impact of oral health on Aboriginal women’s general health, as well as a better understanding of their needs in dental clinics.

“The clinic setting frequently doesn’t allow for group visits but we know that the group is important to Aboriginal women, so there should be more flexibility to allow for this. Dental services need to be more sensitive to Aboriginal women’s needs more broadly, because they are at the extreme end of the disease profile,” she says.

The results of this study are published in the current issue of the Australian Dental Journal.

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NACCHO health alert:Community solutions must be centre of strategy to address terrible Aboriginal suicide rates


A Federal Government strategy to address high suicide rates among Aboriginal people, particularly the younger generations, is a welcome step towards addressing the crisis in our communities, the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) said today.

READ previous NACCHO articles on suicide prevention here

 Federal Mental Health Minister Mark Butler today revealed the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Strategy which aims to address Aboriginal suicide rates – which are as high as one a month is some remote Aboriginal communities.

 NACCHO Chair Justin Mohamed said the Federal Government’s focus on the issue, particularly the emphasis on local solutions and capacity building, is welcomed, however he said the detail of the plan still needs careful examination.

 “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience suicide at around twice the rate of the rest of the population. Aboriginal teenage men and women are up to 5.9 times more likely to take their own lives than non-Aboriginal people,” Mr Mohamed said.

 “This is a crisis affecting our young people. It’s critical real action is taken to urgently to address the issue and it’s heartening to see the Federal Government taking steps to do that.”

 However Mr Mohamed said that for any strategy to be effective, local, community-led healthcare needed to be at its core.

 “Historically, Aboriginal people have not had great experiences with the mental health system, so breaking down the barriers and building trust is going to be key and having Aboriginal people involved in the delivery of services is critical.

 “Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations are already having the biggest impacts on holistic improvements in Aboriginal health, including mental health. We are already a trusted source of primary health care within our communities, so its important those centres play a pivotal role in any strategy.

 “The Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Sector has always recommended that services be funded to offer an integrated social and emotional wellbeing program with Aboriginal family support workers, alcohol and substance abuse workers, social workers and psychologists available.

 “Up to 15 per cent of the 10-year life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians has been put down to mental health conditions. We look forward to working with the government to map out the best possible approach to addressing this crisis in our community.

 Media contact: Colin Cowell 0401 331 251, 

NACCHO chair welcomes Professor Kerry Arabena as the newly appointed Chair of Indigenous Health

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Mr Justin Mohamed, Chair of NACCHO representing over 150 Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations throughout Australia today welcomed the annoucement that Professor Kerry Arabena  has been appointed Chair of Indigenous Health at the  Melbourne School of Population and Global Health

Our thanks to the Melbourne AGE for sharing photo  (Photo: Sarah Anderson) and story in which Kerry spoke about the challenges  facing Indigenous Australians, and why local and global leadership is critical  for Indigenous affairs

Strong, charismatic and decisive leadership within Aboriginal and Torres  Strait Islander communities is something Kerry Arabena identifies as crucial to  improving Indigenous health outcomes in Australia.

“Since 1970, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have taken our  rightful place in discussions about health service delivery, the health and  wellbeing of families and the positive transformation of our communities,” she  says.

“Our role as leaders has been to learn to navigate and operate in complex  health service, government and community systems to represent the issues we’ve  heard from people in our communities.”

A descendant of the Meriam People of the Torres Strait, Professor Arabena is  the first Torres Strait Islander woman to achieve and receive a professorial  position. She has had many senior appointments: as well as recently being  appointed Chair of Indigenous Health at the Melbourne School of Population and  Global Health, it was announced in April that Professor Arabena would be taking  on the role of Chair of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander  Health Equality Council.

A social worker by profession, Professor Arabena began her career in  community services and case management in the Northern Territory over 20 years  ago, where she worked in one of the most remote Aboriginal medical services in  Australia at Kintore, 600km west of Alice Springs.

“I think I’m the only Torres Strait Islander woman who’s ever lived out in  the desert like that,” she says.

She transitioned from social work into human ecology, community-controlled  health organisations, co-ordination of national public health initiatives and  finally into academia. At the University of Melbourne her role involves  community engagement and capacity-building.

She notes that the role of leadership within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait  Islander community is constantly changing.

“Some of us have been in our fields for at least 20 years and are in  positions to mentor others. We are modern intellectuals with ancestral and  cultural connection to country. This type of leadership is now critical for all  our affairs.

“Our role is to look to the next generation, to ensure we are supporting and  creating spaces for them. We need to unify on matters affecting us all, and  engage in conversations about our affairs on a local and global scale.”

These conversations are much needed. Many disparities still exist between  Indigenous and non-Indigenous population health status and outcomes,  determinants of health and health system performance.

While Professor Arabena is wary of “simplifying, stereotyping and amplifying”  the difficulties of life for people in some Aboriginal and Torres Strait  Islander communities, she says “The reality of life is grim” for many of  them.

“Life is such that some children would choose to end their lives before they  get a chance to live it. Life is such that we have young people who have  completed year 12 but who are unable to read or write.”

Professor Arabena believes negatively framed discussion of Indigenous issues  in policy environments is, however, deeply problematic, directly impacting  health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people.

In many public conversations, Indigenous people are viewed as “disadvantaged”  and “in poverty” and all of these other terms we use so loosely.

“What we forget to see and know is that people can change, people can empower  themselves, and that given information and opportunity, people can transform  their lives from what might have been incredibly difficult circumstances.”

Professor Arabena identifies several strategies she will focus on during her  time at the University, including helping build recognition of the rights of  Indigenous families and communities to live self-determining lives, free from  discrimination; and creating and advancing knowledge of the contributions  Indigenous Australians have made, and continue to make, to Australian  society.

“I get excited about what we can do together. Despite difficult  circumstances, there have been eight Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander  Australians of the Year, and I think That’s something we can all be proud  of.

“We get described as “disadvantaged” and not able to do things: actually we  can, and we are, and we will. Whether people recognise that or not ” we know  what we do, we know what we can achieve. And to me, that is worth  celebrating.”

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NACCHO congratulates JILL Gallagher VACCHO CEO Order of Australia: improving outcomes in Aboriginal health


Source of article and image

JILL Gallagher is humbled by her Order of Australia for  distinguished service to Victoria’s indigenous community.

But she’s not about to rest on her laurels. There’s still a  lot of work to be done.

As head of the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled  Health Organisation for the past 12 years, she has seen her people face  increasingly dire health challenges since she joined the organisation in  1992.

”Chronic disease is a huge problem, tobacco is one of  them, diabetes is a huge issue and when you look at Victoria you’ve got a lot of  Aboriginal people living in urban areas who have shocking health problems. The  health status of people living in Fitzroy is the same as people living in  Fitzroy Crossing, so we have a job to do convincing governments that there are  Aboriginal people who live in Victoria who need just as much support.”

Asked to list her most significant achievement in her time  in Aboriginal health, the 57-year-old cites her influence in getting the state  government to sign the statement of intent to close the 17-year life expectancy  gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

She says there are many factors, beyond access to health  services, that contribute to the disparity. ”If you’re going to close the life  expectancy gap you’ve got to look at education and employment opportunities.  Anyone whether you’re black or white, if you’ve got a job you’re going to be a  lot more healthy.”

She is also proud of her role in the return of 800  Aboriginal skeletons – the Murray Black Collection –  from the Museum of  Victoria and the National Museum of Australia to indigenous communities in  northern Victoria and southern New South Wales for burial.

”My passion is actually for us as Aboriginal people to be  recognised and valued as Aboriginal Australians and to enjoy the same benefits  that this country offers as non-indigenous Australians.

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