Opening remarks – National Indigenous Health Equality Summit

By Tom Calma, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission

Tuesday, 18 March 2008


I would like to begin by acknowledging all of the Ngunnawal peoples – the traditional owners of the land where we are meeting over the coming days. I pay my respects to your elders and to the ancestors.

Thank you Aunty Agnes for your generous and warm welcome to country.

Distinguished guests, can I join Aunty Agnes in welcoming you to the National Indigenous Health Equality Summit. I welcome you on behalf of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, as well as the Steering Committee of the Close the Gap campaign.

The next 3 days are the culmination of a long journey.

As I’ll explain shortly, the genesis of this Summit goes back to my 2005 report to Parliament. But of course the journey for Indigenous health equality goes back a lot longer than that.

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So how will the Summit proceed?

The program is included at page 4 of your Summit pack.

Today is intended to share information and start the discussion on the pathway to achieving health equality.

Through the Steering Committee for the Close the Gap process we have established three working groups to progress targets for consideration at this Summit. Today you will hear presentations from the Chairs of the three working groups. These are in relation to health targets; primary health care; and health infrastructure.

Tomorrow those working groups will meet with delegates to consider the draft targets that are included in your Summit kit and to refine them.

You should not feel constrained about having input into these groups. And don’t feel you must wait until the workshop tomorrow. The purpose of this being a residential Summit is to enable interaction to occur throughout the process. So please begin the discussions with our Summit Chairs and other working group members so as to maximise the time available tomorrow.

Today we will also have a number of panels from government representatives. This will include sessions with representatives from DOHA – both the mainstream and Indigenous specific areas of the department; FAHCSIA; Prime Minister and Cabinet; Treasury; the COAG Health and Ageing Working Group; as well as the Productivity Commission, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare; and the Northern Territory Government.

Tonight we will also have a session with the Indigenous Dentist’s Association of Australia on oral health targets
Tomorrow will be largely devoted to developing targets and benchmarks. Parallel to the three workshops on health targets; primary health care; and health infrastructure, will be two other workshops on mental health, social and emotional wellbeing; and social determinants.

We will also have a workshop in plenary on establishing a new partnership and government accountability for achieving health equality.

In the afternoon our Working Groups will write up their discussions for distribution among the Summit participants. While they do so, we will hear a range of presentations selected by the Steering Committee. These include on Reconciliation Action Plans – which form a basis for organisations to set up accountability mechanisms to demonstrate their own commitments to closing the gap; and one by Oxfam Australia on campaigning to further the close the gap targets post the Summit.

There are also two presentations on issues that are of great significance – one on cardio-vascular disease and the other on issues relating to Indigenous people with disabilities: an area that is extremely prevalent but almost entirely overlooked in all health and other frameworks.

We will then conclude the day with facilitated discussion about outcome documents for this Summit. These include a Declaration that will be the centrepiece of Thursday’s events in the Great Hall in Parliament that lays the foundations for a new partnership between the Australian government, the Indigenous health leadership, the health sector, community organisations and Australian people.

So let me remind us what we are here to achieve.

We aim to set out a vision – a vision of what health equality looks like and how we achieve it. and

We aim to confirm partnerships – partnerships with government; across governments; through COAG; among the Indigenous and non-Indigenous health sectors; and the broader community.

We aim to set forth a framework for joint planning and implementation – where we work with new partners to jointly set targets and deliver specific strategies. One sector can not accomplish the immensity of this objective alone.

And we aim to establish joint monitoring processes – where partners must jointly monitor their performance so it is not a blame game. Each sector will require a commitment to action and be prepared to support each other in meeting each sector’s responsibilities and in learning from mistakes.

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