More than 140,000 people across Australia today will remind political leaders of their commitment to close the gap in health inequality, as critical Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health funding is due to expire.
Today is the seventh annual National Close the Gap Day, with a record 950 community events in homes, schools, universities, workplaces, community halls and public spaces to raise awareness about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and urge continued action by government.
The growing movement of people concerned about the appalling health and life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and other Australians could not come at a more critical time. The $1.6 billion funding package underpinning current Closing the Gap health programs expires in June, and we’ve had no solid commitment that it will be renewed.
This COAG funding, from Federal, State and Territory Governments, is making a real difference to people’s lives, and must continue. Under-five mortality rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were starting to fall, and smoking and chronic disease initiatives were beginning to have an impact. The COAG health funding has a strong focus on chronic disease and has led to more Aboriginal health workers, doctors, nurses, health promotion workers and healthy lifestyle programs, more affordable medicines, as well as better access to smoking programs by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Continued investment is essential if we are to build on this excellent work and be the generation to end the national disgrace that sees Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples die more than 10 years younger than the broader Australian community. This is a national issue on which all sides of politics must continue to focus – and today is a reminder that the public plays a critical role in maintaining the momentum to Close the Gap.
This year, we are seeing groups as diverse as the entire NSW Ambulance Service, Port Adelaide Football Club and the Canberra Institute of Technology getting on board for National Close the Gap Day. It is absolutely crucial that all state and territory governments join the Federal Government in continuing to invest in a healthy future. It would be a tragedy if we lost momentum just at the time we’ve started to see the possibility of a better future for so many people.
Mick Gooda and Jody Broun are the Close the Gap campaign co-chairs