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Closing the gap through ‘treaty, truth-telling and healing’


Morgan Liotta


18/03/2021 4:00:10 PM

The 2021 Close the Gap report focuses on leadership and legacy in working to achieve health equity in Australia.

Aboriginal Australian child
The 12th annual Close the Gap report presents community-driven solutions to closing the gap in health inequalities.

Launched via webinar, key findings of the 12th annual report, Leadership and legacy through crises: Keeping our mob safe, were discussed by peak Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals and organisations.
 
‘Today is another important day to report on unfinished business of education and health inequalities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,’ Close the Gap campaign co-Chair and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, June Oscar AO, said in her opening presentation.
 
‘We can all act on the solutions we have to reverse the deficits [and] use our knowledge and learnings to overcome the current deficits we see today.
 
‘Challenges require leadership and solutions, and this report is overflowing with both. It proudly showcases our strengths in culture and community, and the legacy we will leave our children to show the pathways forward.’
 
Ms Oscar said the report’s leadership and legacy theme signifies the commitment from governments and communities in achieving health equity, with the ‘long overdue yet welcomed’ National Agreement on Closing the Gap providing real opportunity for reform and progress.
 
‘We know it is possible to achieve health equality, and to do that we require robust implementation framework that have mechanisms to close gaps, wherever they are,’ she said.
 
‘Not just from the Commonwealth, but all states and territories … to genuinely commit to implementation plans and investment that meets the needs [of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples].
 
‘For meaningful engagement to happen we have to address our right to a voice, our self-determination: treaty, truth telling and healing.
 
‘We need to strengthen our voice in the fabric of this nation, to heal and strengthen our common wealth, and to reach this takes partnership. We can do this – that is the promise of close the gap.’
 
Produced by the Lowitja Institute on behalf of the Close the Gap Steering Committee, the report invites people to ‘connect with strength-based examples of managing the most complex of challenges’ and presents community-driven solutions to closing the gap in health inequalities.
 
It highlights the resilience, strengths and leadership of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples throughout recent health crises, such as the bushfires and COVID-19.
 
‘When the pandemic struck, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities successfully led the way in the COVID-19 response,’ Deputy Chair of RACGP Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Dr Kali Hayward said.
 
‘As a result, the rates of this virus have been six times lower in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities compared to the rest of the Australian population.
 
‘This demonstrates what can happen when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, organisations and communities are able to make decisions about their health [and] deliver culturally safe and localised solutions.
 
‘We must learn from this and make sure that the leadership of Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations and health services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic becomes a permanent fixture.’
 
A key focus of the RACGP’s Close the Gap efforts is to increase the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander GP workforce through strengthening training opportunities and engaging and collaborating with students, training organisations and medical organisations.
 
The 2020 Health of the Nation report found a 55% increase in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students pursuing a career in medicine in the past three years.
 
‘Let’s keep up this momentum and get more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people practising medicine, especially in general practice,’ Dr Hayward said.
 
RACGP President Dr Karen Price and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Censor Dr Olivia O’Donoghue will represent at the 2021 Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association (AIDA) Growing our Fellows event on 20 March.
 
The event promotes the exchange of ideas on ways to progress pathways and builds opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors to enter and succeed in specialist medical training. It provides an opportunity for AIDA members to have direct engagement with peak medical colleges to discuss pathways and career aspirations, through providing their feedback on issues of cultural safety, mentoring and supporting training.

Kali-Hayward-article.jpgDr Kali Hayward said that primary healthcare plays a vital role in improving health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Dr Hayward said the Close the Gap report also acknowledges the role of primary healthcare.
 
‘The strong involvement of trusted primary health practitioners can make a difference to improving health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,’ she said.
 
‘The focus should not just be on reactively fixing health problems when they arise, but helping our patients to access the healthcare and services they need to thrive. We also need to acknowledge and act on racism in healthcare – stopping racism is how we can make a huge difference to health outcomes.’
 
Findings from a recent report show that institutional racism leads to a ‘silencing’ of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ knowledge, perspectives and cultural practices – all of which are fundamental to closing the gap.
 
‘If you have a GP who is properly trained to deliver high-quality and culturally safe healthcare, they are going to be a better GP for all patients,’ Dr Hayward said.
 
The 2021 Close the Gap report has 15 recommendations for structural reform and strength-based, community driven approaches to adaptation and response, including:
 

  • adopting examples of policy and program structures and partnerships that saw Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities successfully lead in COVID-19 responses and outcomes
  • full implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart and full funding of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap
  • nationally raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 years old to 14 years old
  • establishing, funding and evaluating a national anti-racism strategy to address systemic racism
  • establishing culturally safe health services and building the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce.
 
Federal Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt said that the Close the Gap campaign is a great example of community-led action, particularly through the success of managing the pandemic with low cases among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
 
‘I welcome the report. We have shown what we can achieve through working in partnership, and it shows all of us the importance of local community voices, when heard and listened to, can save lives and protect each other,’ he said in his webinar speech.
 
‘Great change comes when we can motivate enough people to care. We need to break new ground for systemic change through strength-based, community-led actions and solutions.’
 
Minister Wyatt also called for a focus on the achievements, rather than deficits, of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
 
‘We need to become much more ambitious in the way we think, demonstrate and share our successes, but remind ourselves there is much work still to be done,’ he said.
 
This message is echoed by Close the Gap Campaign:
 
‘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.’
 
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