Close the Gap Day was largely acknowledged around the country last Thursday, with some organisations taking the opportunity to voice their concerns about the lack of progress in meeting Close the Gap targets.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar AO and Co-Chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples Rod Little released a report from the Lowitja Institute at a community event hosted by Tharawal Aboriginal Corporation in south western Sydney.

“The report highlights the incredible work being carried out by Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) to improve the health and well-being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” said the Close the Gap Campaign Co-Chairs.

“The stories in the report clearly demonstrate that when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are involved in the design and delivery of the services they need, we are far more likely to achieve success.”

The report, titled ‘Our Choices, Our Voices,’ reaffirmed the federal government’s recommendations and highlighted three priority themes:

  • targeted, needs-based primary health care
  • a responsive health care system
  • good housing for good health.

Ms Oscar said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples need genuine and meaningful engagement in the decision-making process, something that was emphasised in the report.

“We have a right to self-determination and full participation in decision-makingabout matters that affect us. We need to invest in and support on the ground voices and solutions. An investment in our community-controlled organisations is an investment in success,” Ms Oscar said.

Mr Little said health outcomes and life expectancy in Indigenous communities are affected by several factors, adding he hoped Close the Gap Day would encourage more commitment to addressing challenges of health inequality.

“I want Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to have the same opportunity to live full and healthy lives, like all other Australians,” Mr Little said.

National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) said Close the Gap Day is an opportunity to take the time to reflect on progress and challenges facing Indigenous communities.

NACCHO CEO Pat Turner said the organisation was “really pleased” when a formal partnership with Indigenous Australian peak bodies was agreed to by the government.

“It was encouraging to hear the Prime Minister acknowledge that until Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are brought to the table as equal partners, the gap will not be closed, and that this principle would be part of Closing the Gap efforts going forward,” Ms Turner said.

“Our services are fundamental to closing the gap.”


Taking Closing the Gap to heart

The issue of Rhematic Heart Disease was also raised on the day, with screenings around Australia of the film Take Heart: The Quest to Rid Australasia of Rheumatic Heart Disease.

Rheumatic Heart Disease is a preventable disease affecting children, especially those from remote and rural Indigenous communities.

Each week two Australians die from this preventable condition.

The film aims to raise awareness at a time when the Indigenous community comes together.

Take Heart is a powerful tool in the fight against RHD,” said Bo Remenyi, the Northern Territory’s only paediatric cardiologist.

“After children watch these videos, we see more prevention, and children self-identifying their sore throats and skin sores so they can get early treatment. For those who don’t know much about RHD, it’s a powerful introduction.”


“ACCOs have had enough!”

Other ACCOs used the day to highlight the lack of progress and engagement between the government and Indigenous Australians.

After meeting to discuss Indigenous service delivery, a group of Perth Metropolitan ACCOs issued a joint statement before Close the Gap Day saying they don’t believe much has changed regarding the Closing the Gap timeline.

The statement from Derbarl Yerrigan Health Service, Moorditj Koort, Wungening Aboriginal Corporation, Yokai, Yorganop and Yorgum Aboriginal Corporation expressed “deep concerns” about the lack of progress in Closing the Gap targets and blamed a “lack of trust and support from the government to ACCOs.”

“The government continues to use our organisations by calling us to meetings to access our knowledge, but this is then appropriated as they see fit to ‘fix the Aboriginal problem’.”

The trend has been for the bulk of resources and expenditure to be allocated to non-Aboriginal NGOs.

ACCOs are being excluded despite having a culturally appropriate service edge.

“The feelings generated among our members is that we are being systematically marginalised and ignored by government. This is causing a negative flow on effect to the Aboriginal community,” the joint statement said.

The group of organisations called upon the WA State Government to begin proper dialogue with the Indigenous community.

“We believe that true consultations begin with a mutually agreed agenda, with time taken to fully discuss the problems and solutions,” they said.

The ACCOs also called on the Indigenous community to unite on Close the Gap Day and to attend a forum hosted at Wungening Aboriginal Corporation in East Perth.

The forum featured speakers addressing issues such as intergenerational trauma, stolen generations, human rights, justice, family, health and well-being.

By Hannah Cross