“Righting the wrongs”: it’s our responsibility to Close the Gap

Indigenous Australia article written on the 10 Feb 2016

On the day our Prime Minister hands down his government’s annual Closing the Gap report into Indigenous disadvantage, Oxfam’s Close the Gap campaign lead, Tom Widdup, considers the public campaign driving action to achieve Indigenous health equality.

2006. In many ways we’ve come a long way since then, but in others, not so much.

Ten years ago, John Howard was defending his government’s decision not to apologise to Indigenous Australians for the past injustices inflicted on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples; injustices that have had profound health impacts on generation after generation of Indigenous Australians.

Thankfully, in 2008, the Rudd Government saw it differently — as did many of John Howard’s Liberal Party colleagues who endorsed our apology to the First Australians.

Kevin Rudd’s apology included the passage: “The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.”

But we’ve had mixed success in “moving forward”. So today is the start of the latest chapter in “righting the wrongs”.

Today, the Close the Gap campaign called on all political parties to make Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing a major priority in the lead up to the next election.

We all deserve a healthy future; and health inequality has been a stain on our nation for far too long.

Today, in Canberra, Indigenous leaders and the broader Close the Gap coalition reminded Australia’s political parties that we have both the opportunity and responsibility to remove this stain by taking action right now.

Our responsibility is to deliver sustained (not piece-meal) action to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health over the long-term. And this action needs to be adequately resourced, appropriately consultative, and ensures increased Indigenous control over the processes and infrastructure that delivers their health system.

Tom Calma, the then Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, began this process in 2005 when he presented his Social Justice Report into Indigenous health. This landmark report acknowledged both the limited public awareness, and limited effort by consecutive Australian Governments, to deal with the 10–17 year life expectancy gap that existed — and still exists — between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Since then, the Close the Gap coalition has arguably brought together many of the leading thinkers and practitioners on Aboriginal health around the country. When I sit in Close the Gap Steering Group meetings on behalf of Oxfam, I hear from people that are working at the coalface of Indigenous health. Unfortunately, the same issues keep coming up.

We need Australia’s various federal, state, and territory governments to start working with Australia’s First Peoples rather than undertaking superficial consultations and imposing “solutions” from above.

Join us for the tenth anniversary year of the campaign. Indigenous health equality matters. We need a renewed long-term commitment from the federal government and opposition parties to right the wrongs in this election year.

If you haven’t already, you can start your support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health equality by signing the Close the Gap pledge.

If you’ve done this, then read more about the achievements — and work still to be done — in the Close the Gap Progress and Priorities Report 2016.