This month, a record number of 1289 community organised events were held in Australia to celebrate the 8th annual National Close the Gap day.1 Although much more still needs to be done in securing equal health access for all Australians, the fact that more than 150,000 Australians took part in the National Close the Gap day is heartwarming. Clearly this affirms that Indigenous health is a significant priority for the nation as a whole.
The significance of these events cannot be underestimated. They stand as a reminder to the community and our political leaders of the importance of achieving health equality between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians. With proof of support that is widespread, funding towards programs for this cause will hopefully be better protected from budget cuts. Setting ourselves goals as individuals, communities and as an entire population is a crucial step towards this ultimate goal. Having specific targets and timelines to be fulfilled will give us something to aspire to, and work towards.
Co-chair of Close the Gap, Kirstie Parker advocates in particular for the need of greater commitments to social justice targets (see here interview with NITV below). The progress that we hope for the future will depend upon the effort from across the community, and will have the best chance of success if priorities are developed through partnerships with Indigenous Australian communities. As a nation we need to listen to Indigenous Australian ideas, leadership and engage all aspects of community if we are to reach any meaningful targets. As Kirstie Parker underlines, clear targets that give governments responsibilities to commit funding and services will be central.
In 2008, the Council of Australian Governments created a set of 6 specific targets for Closing the Gap. Its latest report card released under prime minister Tony Abbott shows that some progress has been made in each of these 6 goals, but the nation is still failing in some critical areas.
The 6 Targets 2
Goal: Close the life expectancy gap within a generation (by 2030).
Goal: Access to early childhood education for Indigenous four year olds in remote communities within 5 years.
Goal: Halve the gap in reading, writing and numeracy achievements for children within 10 years.
Goal: Halve the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous children under five within 10 years.
Goal: Halve the gap in Indigenous achievement by 2020.
Goal: Halve the gap in employment outcomes within a decade.
In addition, the Abbott government has added another goal that is ensuring 90 per cent attendance for all schools regardless of the proportion of Indigenous Australian students enrolled. This is aimed at reducing the gap in school attendance within 5 years.
Abbott’s report revealed that almost no progress has been made in improving literacy rates for Indigenous Australians, although to have 95 per cent of remote children enrolled in preschool can be considered on track. Education is a crucial tool for empowerment, as it allows individuals to gain knowledge, access more employment opportunities and make decisions which open up better pathways. There has been little positive movement in efforts to close the gap in life-expectancy, as well as a failure to move towards halving the gap in employment outcomes.
1. Oxfam (AU). Record National Close the Gap day [Internet]. 2014 Mar 14 [cited 2014 April 1]. Available from: https://www.oxfam.org.au/2014/03/record-national-close-the-gap-day/
2. Closing the Gap Prime Minister’s Report [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Government the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet; 2014 [cited 2014 April 3]. Available from: http://www.dpmc.gov.au