NACCHO Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health News Alert : Community control ‘key to Indigenous advancement’, says our CEO Pat Turner


Pat Turner believes that when Indigenous organisations take over the job of improving the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, it will be the end of the grim practice of monitoring failure and calling it Closing the Gap.

“Self-determination has been a policy of the commonwealth since 1971 but we have never been given agency to exercise it to the fullest ­extent,” Ms Turner said.

“(That is) because there’s been so much government neglect of programs and the way they’ve implemented programs, and their lack of accountability for the poor outcomes that leaves us in the desperate situation we’re in today.”

From the Australian front page and page 4 interview with Paige Taylor

Ms Turner, who began working life as a switchboard operator, taught Australian studies at Georgetown University in the US and later established indigenous television channel NITV, has emerged as a prominent Aboriginal voice.

Working with Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt, Ms Turner has steered a radical re­design of the Closing the Gap scheme established by the Rudd government in 2008.

It has culminated in a draft agreement with states and terri­tories — as well as the Local Government Association of Australia — to bolster community-­controlled indigenous organisations across Australia so they are capable of doing the work that is currently done by government agencies and non-government organisations dominated by non-Aboriginal people.

The draft agreement, which sets ambitious targets to reduce indigenous disadvantage, is due to go to national cabinet this month.

Ms Turner understands what a strong network of community-controlled indigenous organisations can do. She represents 143 of them as chief executive of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation.

The community-controlled indigenous health sector is established and in touch with grassroots people all over the country. It led the advocacy that safeguarded remote Aboriginal communities when the corona­virus pandemic hit Australia but Ms Turner acknowledges there is no real equivalent in education, early childhood or other spheres, including the disability sector.

Changing that is key to the success of the new Closing the Gap agreement, Ms Turner said.

In 2019, after 11 annual reports, just two of seven Closing the Gap targets set in 2008 — early childhood education and Year 12 attainment — had been achieved. Targets were not met on school attendance, child mortality, employment, life expectancy and literacy and numeracy.

“We were most grateful that Kevin Rudd took the initiative to set up the Closing the Gap … that money he invested in it was over $4bn,” she said.

“What we weren’t happy with was the fixation on targets.

“They don’t drive change … and while you’ve got to have them, they’re not the things that make the difference.”

Ms Turner said indigenous people would be the difference. “The reforms are equal decision-making between governments and Aboriginal people at every level — local, regional, state, and national,” she said.

“So when they’re talking about measures that impact on us, at the moment what you’ve got in this arrangement are those sitting in ivory towers, the capital cities, and they come up with a policy or implementation plan based on what the government’s commitments of the day are and go out to Aboriginal people and say ‘We’ve got this new program and if you meet these guidelines, you’ll be eligible for funding’.”

Ms Turner said under the new agreement, communities would determine what was needed and they would be supported by governments to achieve it.

The third of five children raised in Alice Springs, Ms Turner has clear views about what gives a child a good start in life. She does not have children and helps raise a great nephew with her sister in a home they share in Canberra.

“I think it starts from pre-birth. It’s about the responsibilities of raising children for both young men and young women and having children at the right time in their lives, rather than unexpected pregnancies,” she said. “Too many young people are having too many kids too early. It just puts massive pressure on the whole extended family.”

Ms Turner’s world view was shaped in part by her father’s accidental death in 1963, when she was 10. Her mother went to work in three jobs as a dishwasher.

She was also influenced by the advocacy of her uncle Charles Perkins, the civil rights activist.

“What I understood very early was Aboriginal people endured a lot of ­racism in daily lives — including me — and that wasn’t right.”

Ms Turner rose through the ranks of the public service, including at the Department of Health and Centrelink, and was the only indigenous person to work as chief executive of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. “I never had one qualified audit report of my organisation; not one,” she said.

It is her view that the commonwealth’s reshaped work-for-the-dole scheme, called CDP, is a lost cause. “It needs to be abolished and what Aboriginal people really need is a job guarantee. Award wages and proper jobs,” she said.

It is a case argued in The Weekend Australian on Saturday by Noel Pearson, who described Australian economist Bill Mitchell’s longstanding call for government to fund real jobs, at the minimum wage, to all unemployed Australians as “one of the most imaginative and compelling answers” to the question of how to build a stronger, fairer and more resilient nation.

Ms Turner is adamant the new Closing the Gap agreement can play a role. “If you invest, as a government, in an Aboriginal community-controlled organisation to do the service delivery, instead of all these bureaucrats sitting around in jobs, those jobs could be undertaken by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, which means families at the local level have a decent job,” she said.

“We will have a sustainable workforce, and can offer scholarships and apprenticeships … so that we expand the opportunities and career choices for our young­er generations.”

Part 2

As a receptionist in the Native Welfare department in the early 1970s, it was Pat Turner’s job to let her bosses know when somebody was at the front desk for them.

One day a very young Ms Turner told her boss a gentleman was here to see him, and her boss replied: “Is he black or white?”

It made her blood boil so she challenged him about what difference it made. He agreed to see the visitor. “I had great pleasure in taking him in. Of course, he was an Aboriginal bloke, but I wasn’t gonna tell him that,” she said.

By 1975, Ms Turner was a trained welfare officer back in her hometown of Alice Springs, reading Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. She also took kids to play sport. She also taught them their rights and obligations.

“There were too many of our kids at risk with the criminal justice system,” she said.

After speaking to parents and the local headmaster, she took indigenous kids to the Alice Springs Magistrates Court in a borrowed bus.

“Ninety five per cent of the people going to court every day were Aboriginal and most of the cases were for public drunkenness,” she said.

Afterwards, the police prosecutor and Ms Turner would ask the children for their observations.

Sometimes the children had questions about why an accused went to jail or what they did wrong.

“I would say, ‘Well, what would you do if you were pulled up by the police?’ and some kids said, you know, like, ‘run’,” Ms Turner said. “And so we’d explain to them how to handle that situation. It was about increasing their awareness, how to deal respectfully with the police and not get into further trouble.”

Ms Turner said the children she knew then each finished school and got jobs in indigenous organisations.

This made her proud of them and the families who supported them.

She lamented that excessive gambling, alcohol and drug abuse had left too many children “to their own devices” in Alice Springs these days.

“I think it’s gone a bit backwards in terms of the opportunities for children,” she said.

Paige Taylor


Aboriginal Health #CoronaVirus News Alert No 60 : May 13 #KeepOurMobSafe #OurJobProtectOurMob :#Closingthegap: Aboriginal groups say #coronavirus should not delay new targets

” The pandemic should not be used by governments as a reason to delay the new agreement on closing the gap targets, a coalition of more than 50 Aboriginal peak organisations has warned ahead of the next scheduled meeting in June.

The Coalition of Peaks said the “quick and decisive” efforts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health organisations has kept Covid-19 from devastating communities so far, and shows that strong partnerships with governments make a big difference to Aboriginal health and safety.

But the virus has exposed the inequality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people on many fronts, the lead convenor of the Coalition of Peaks, Pat Turner, said.

“Covid-19 is a pathogen, but it is also a diagnostic test being run on Australia – and the results are not good,” Turner said. “

Indigenous organisations say their success with Covid-19 shows strong partnerships with governments make a big difference

Originally published in The Guardian

For info Coalition of Peaks website

While Australians over 65 are considered at high risk of suffering the worst effects of Covid-19, in Aboriginal communities, where there is a higher chronic disease burden, anyone over 50 is considered vulnerable.

“Covid-19 doesn’t discriminate so the gap in potential outcomes is a result of the structural inequity that exists in Australia,” Turner said.

“It is not natural occurrence but the direct result of years of neglect, disinvestment and failed policies, developed without our input.”

In March last year, Australian governments signed a historic partnership agreement with the Coalition of Peaks on closing the gap. They have since developed four reform priorities that are yet to be formally adopted.

“This pandemic has shown just how important those reforms are,” Turner said.

The reforms are to have greater Aboriginal involvement in decision making and service delivery at a national, regional and local level. There is also a commitment to making sure government agencies and institutions undertake systemic and structural transformation, and strengthening community-controlled organisations to deliver the services Aboriginal people need.

Scott Morrison has already committed $1.5m for the fourth priority – a data project to support evidence-based policy and decision making by Indigenous communities.

“Our organisations and communities are best placed to respond to this crisis and yet are the same organisations and communities that have borne the brunt of repeated funding cuts and a rollercoaster of policy and administration changes,” she said.

Turner also said the absence of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander national body or voice to parliament, bringing its collective expertise to respond to Covid-19, was “stark” in its absence.

“People have labelled Covid-19 as some sort of great equaliser but, in reality, its impact is not shared equally,” she said.

“The truth is that there can be no equality until we work together to dismantle structural inequity. Collective will is the only real equaliser.”


NACCHO #HealthElection16 : Calls for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff to head new Federal Indigenous Affairs Department

Pat Turner2

“We need our own department re-established, with all senior staff working in the newly recreated department being Indigenous. It should be headed up by competent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in all of the senior executive positions so we can work more effectively, both with government and with our people.”

Former senior Indigenous public servant Pat Turner has called for a federal Indigenous affairs department to be re-established and headed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff. Pictured above speaking at the press conference  for the #redfernstatement with Jackie Huggins Congress Co- chair : Article from ABC NEWS

“The Australian health budget is 10 per cent of Australia’s GDP. $90 billion dollars is funded for Australians’ health by the Commonwealth Government alone. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sector get $4 billion, so you do the sums.  If closing the gap is so important to the incoming government, they have to fund the implementation of the health plan”

Pat Turner believes health is one of the glaring areas in need of attention. ABC PM

READ or DOWNLOAD THE FULL #redfernstatement HERE

Key points:

  • Statement designed to apply pressure to prioritise Indigenous Affairs
  • We need our own department, Turner says
  • Turner, representatives take aim at Abbott government decisions

Ms Turner, who now runs the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Network, was among a group of health, education, legal and reconciliation representatives who jointly delivered the so-called Redfern Statement today.

The statement is designed to apply pressure to both major political parties to prioritise Indigenous affairs in the election campaign.

The group has primarily called for a series of Abbott government policies to be undone.

One of Tony Abbott’s most inflammatory bureaucratic decisions was to move the standalone Indigenous affairs department within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, a move Ms Turner said must be reversed.

Ms Turner and other representatives also took aim at a string of other legacy decisions taken by Mr Abbott’s government.

Among the most pressing concerns were the 2014 budget cuts and the flaws in the new Indigenous funding system, the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS).

“The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet is a coordinating department, they have no idea how to deliver programs,” Ms Turner said.

“And that’s been reflected in the IAS, and how hopeless it is.”

Ms Turner was previously chief executive of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) and former deputy secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

‘Do not ignore us, we vote too’

Co-chairwoman of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples Jackie Huggins said change was a matter of urgency.

“We don’t want to be marginalised, and they say to government quite clearly, do not ignore us at your peril because we vote too,” she said.

“It’s about time the Government woke up to that and engage with us in a very real and meaningful genuine relationship that we have been screaming out for years.”

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda said there was still a long way to go to improve ties between Indigenous Australia and government.

“At the moment, we don’t have a relationship with government; they’ve defunded congress, the only representative organisation we have that’s our organisation.

“They’ve appointed an Indigenous Advisory Council who only represent themselves, and they’ll tell you that.”

The coalition of some of the nation’s most well-respected Indigenous leaders said that in the last 25 years, they had seen prime ministers come and go, countless policies introduced and then changed, and promises of funding made only to be followed by cuts.

The group said the only political party to highlight Indigenous needs this campaign had been the Greens.

Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion issued a response to the Redfern Statement, saying the Coalition’s track record demonstrated their commitment to “improving outcomes for First Australians”.

Senator Scullion said the Coalition had put additional funds into the Indigenous Affairs budget, including $48 million to support land tenure measures through the Developing Northern Australia White Paper and $14.6 million for constitutional recognition.



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NACCHO #HealthElection16 : Ongoing commitment required to close the gap says NACCHO CEO


PHOTO ABOVE : Senator Rachel Siewert visiting the Broome Regional Aboriginal Medical Centre yesterday with Senator Richard Di Natale to announce the Greens Aboriginal Health policy. Prior to entering parliament, Richard was a general practitioner and public health specialist. He worked in Aboriginal health in the Northern Territory.


“Perhaps the most important part of The Greens’ commitments is the restoring of over half a billion dollars in cuts since 2013 and their earlier promise to index Medicare rebates, which have been frozen for several years. This has been causing unnecessary hardship to medical services across Australia.

“The Greens policy is a very comprehensive plan for Aboriginal health and we challenge the other parties to outline in detail what their plans are in these areas of concern.”

NACCHO CEO Patricia Turner ( Pictured above ) has welcomed the release of The Greens’ Aboriginal Health policy yesterday.

Ms Turner said The Greens’ policy is so far the only one this election to focus specifically on Aboriginal health and make commitments in nearly all of the key areas in Aboriginal health.

Read Greens Press release HERE

Download the full Aboriginal Health Policy document

Greens Aboriginal Health platform 2016 Elections

“The Greens have touched on many issues of serious concern for the ACCHO sector,” Ms Turner said.

“Avoidable blindness accounts for 11 per cent of the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal health. $42.3 million will go a long way to providing spectacles and other eye health measures and implement the Roadmap to Close the Gap for Vision.

“Almost $100 million to Close the Gap in hearing is also very welcome. We know that educational outcomes improve when children can hear properly in class and the $4 million a year for sound field systems in classrooms will be a great help.

“There is a desperate need for mental health services for Aboriginal people and the $720 million The Greens have committed to this is very important.

“Hear our Voices -Aboriginal Health in Aboriginal Hands “

View our new NACCHO TV Interviews HERE



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NACCHO political alert: What is the future of Aboriginal leadership and activism ?

Image:  The next generation. Aboriginal students cheer in celebration after watching Prime Minister Kevin Rudd deliver the apology to Aboriginal people for injustices committed since white settlement on February 13, 2008. (Photo by Kristian Dowling/Getty Images)

How loud will the Aboriginal voice be as activism looks to the future?

The Aboriginal ‘voice’ seems quieter than in previous decades.

But as Ann Arnold discovered this NAIDOC week, the lack of a strong national representative body, and the dispersal of Aboriginal policy across government departments, hasn’t made life easy for activists.


A decade or two ago, Aboriginal leaders like Mick Dodson, Pat Dodson and Lowitja O’Donoghue were household names.

Firebrands like Michael Mansell and Gary Foley regularly caught our attention.

And the ALP was seen as the party more naturally aligned with Indigenous causes.

Now, the Liberal Party has its second Aboriginal Federal parliamentarian —Ken Wyatt, from Western Australia. The first, so long ago now, was Senator Neville Bonner in the 1970s.

The Labor Party has never had a Federal Aboriginal MP or Senator.

In the Northern Territory’s CLP government, the Chief Minister Adam Giles is Aboriginal, as is one of his ministers, Alison Anderson. She defected from the Labor Party, was more recently an Independent, and has four portfolios.

“Everyone needs someone sticking up for them. That’s what the National Congress can do for Aboriginal and TI people. It’s the mark of a country’s maturity to enable people to have a voice.”

      Kirstie Parker, Editor, Koori Mail

Another newcomer in that government is Bess Price, an outspoken supporter of the Northern Territory intervention. She’s the CLP member for Stuart, comprising most of the Territory’s west, and held for the past thirty years by Labor.

Despite the Territory’s thirty per cent Aboriginal population, compared to three per cent nationwide, the NT ALP has never fielded an Aboriginal federal candidate. That was one reason why Julia Gillard, as PM, overrode the local branch and in January installed the athlete Nova Peris at the top of the Labor Senate ticket.

Epitomising the changeable political realities is the stance of Warren Mundine. The former National President of the ALP quit the party last year, and has said that he would welcome the opportunity to work with Tony Abbott should he become prime minister.

More recently, Mundine talked on National Indigenous Television about Kevin Rudd’s return as leader. ‘How amazing is Kevin Rudd!’ he exclaimed.

As a result of the apology to the Stolen Generations, Mundine said, Rudd is ‘immensely popular in the Aboriginal community, in fact I haven’t heard anyone saying anything bad about him’.

Given there’s some Aboriginal disillusionment with Labor over its dearth of Indigenous candidates and its continuation of the Northern Territory intervention—a policy which divides Aboriginal people—it’s not surprising, perhaps, that some allegiances are shifting.

 Warren Mundine told The Australian: ‘I will walk with anyone who is going to help us as a nation achieve the outcomes that we need to achieve for all Australians. And I don’t care what politics they are.’

The splintering of the Aboriginal vote is one of the reasons there are less likely to be recognised, national Aboriginal spokespeople. The loss of ATSIC, dismantled by the Howard Government, is another. It was as chair of that body that Lowitja ‘Lois’ O’Donoghue became so well-known.

Pat Turner, a former CEO of ATSIC, and Australia’s most senior Aboriginal government official to date, believes there’s now a gap. ‘There’s no focal point for Aboriginal people,’ she says. ‘That collective voice has dissipated.’

Turner is a critic of The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, the entity intended to replace ATSIC, because it is not perceived to have had much impact. ‘I’m not a fan of it. I can’t see what they’ve done.’

Before ATSIC, Pat Turner was deputy secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and deputy CEO of Centrelink. She rarely made her views public. Now retired in Alice Springs, she shakes her head as she watches policies unfold. When the NT intervention was announced, in 2007, she came out swinging, furious that Aboriginal communities would be controlled in ways that would never be applied to other communities, and without consultation.

But if there hasn’t been sustained, unified protest at the intervention from Aboriginal leaders, Turner believes it’s partly because of the ‘whole of government’ funding model now in place. Instead of dealing with one department—Indigenous Affairs—groups have to make their case with numerous government departments.

While Pat Turner agrees with the principle that every department should fulfil its obligations to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, there are practical problems. ‘Every department has its own guidelines, performance indicators, requires a financial report, and a progress report.’

‘If you’re [an Aboriginal organisation] administering over one hundred grants, you can imagine how burdensome that is.’

It means leaders are overstretched as well as wary of damaging their government ‘partnerships’ through criticism.

Turner observes that community leaders are tending to operate more locally now, finding they can achieve more within their regions than on a bigger scale.

There are of course many Aboriginal voices that are still loud and spectacularly clear. Linda Burney, Larissa Behrendt, Noel Pearson, and Marcia Langton come to mind; all integral to this country’s intellectual and political fabric, and engaging in multiple ways—writing, debating, speaking in various forums.

Tom Calma, Mick Gooda, Tanya Hosch, Aden Ridgeway, and Sam Jeffries are some of the more versatile leaders. There are dozens of others, spread across the professions, the arts, business and sport.

That is the good news story. According to John Maynard, a historian of activism: ‘We have educated lawyers, doctors, people in a variety of areas, so the real smart, street savvy Aboriginal political activist has probably diverted into different areas.’

Professor Maynard, an ARC Research Fellow based at Newcastle University, nonetheless worries that the Aboriginal voice does not appear to be so strong. He believes that ironically, it’s one of the side effects of land rights and native title.

‘We’ve been steered off to localised battles, fighting over money and land. That has stopped people thinking bigger and nationally. We need a united voice to come together.’

The prevailing reconciliation template may also have diverted some energy away from advocacy.

John Maynard’s grandfather Fred Maynard was a prominent activist in the 1920s, albeit one who has been under-appreciated historically. In 1924 he was calling for citizenship, an end to the forced removal of children from families, for Aboriginal people to be in charge of Aboriginal affairs, and for government to respect cultural knowledge.

Fred Maynard also wanted every Aboriginal family to be given 40 acres. Had that been done, his grandson believes, much of the hardship that has been endured since would been averted.

Professor Maynard is the deputy chair of  AIATSIS (Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies). Mick Dodson is the chair. At an AIATSIS conference this week, Maynard will present a session on activism, celebrating the heroes, and actions, of the past—Charlie Perkins and the Freedom Ride; the Garindji walk off at Wave Hill; Chicka Dixon who in the late ‘60s was ‘inspirational’.

‘Paul Coe, Gary Foley, Michael Anderson—there were a whole host of articulate, confident outspoken activists,’ Maynard says. ‘Their strategies were amazing’.

For the 21st century, though, the focus needs to be different. ‘We’d like to unearth some coming through now into politics, probably mainstream politics.’

Kirstie Parker, the editor of the national newspaper the Koori Mail, agrees the strategy has to be different now. ‘A couple of decades ago, there was one pan-Aboriginal view. Governments were not paying their dues to Aboriginal people’s views. We were fighting for basics.’

Now, she says, activism has to have a fluid definition. ‘You’re active for a cause. How you do that is irrelevant. We need people in every realm.’

‘If it’s worked, people respond to it. If they don’t, it hasn’t.’

But still, that missing national voice concerns Parker. She has been on leave from her editor position to campaign for the position of female co-chair of the National Congress for First Peoples. Voting closed last Friday.

Parker doesn’t see the Congress as ideal, but worth putting her energy into.

‘Everyone needs someone sticking up for them. That’s what the National Congress can do for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.’

‘It’s the mark of a country’s maturity to enable people to have a voice.’

‘None of us are big, healthy or robust enough independently to not be threatened by political whims—ill-thought out decisions by government like blanket discrimination under the NT intervention.’

There are still hankerings though in some Aboriginal quarters for another act of powerful symbolism. The 50th anniversary of the Yirrkala Bark Petitions is being celebrated as part of this NAIDOC Week. That the Yolngu people, in 1963, brought those petitions from the Northern Territory’s Gove Peninsular to Parliament House seeking recognition of their traditional lands and a say over mining rights was surely an inspiring act of defiant dignity.

Hear Phillip Adams in discussion with Kirstie Parker, Pat Turner and John Maynard on Late Night Live.