"Indigenous health must be treated as a priority in health reform"

Australian Human Rights Commission – Tuesday, 28 July 2009

The Close the Gap Campaign has welcomed release of the National Health and Hospital Reform Commission (NHHRC) Report and its recognition of Indigenous health as a priority issue.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma, who chairs the Close the Gap Steering Committee for Indigenous Health Equality, said he was particularly pleased the NHHRC had proactively engaged with Indigenous stakeholders, including the Close the Gap Steering Committee, to refine and develop its Indigenous health proposals.

“Most importantly, the NHHRC’s final report emphasises the need for a partnership between government and peak Indigenous health bodies as the starting point in addressing Indigenous health equality,” Commissioner Calma said.

“The onus is now on the Australian Government to ensure it establishes a partnership approach with Indigenous stakeholders in the next six months, as part of its commitment to ‘road test’ the report’s recommendations.

“Proposals such as the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Authority, in particular, have the potential to be a double-edged sword,” he said.

“It is vital that the Australian Government engages from the start with Indigenous stakeholders and the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation to get it right.

“Together, we must ensure the full potential of such an authority to progress Indigenous health equality, but also to ensure that its establishment is not at the expense of the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services.”

Associate Professor Peter O’Mara, Acting President of the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association (AIDA), said the organisation was supportive of health reform that puts people’s needs front and centre. “We want to see a health system where our people can access quality care in a culturally-safe environment no matter where they are treated. It is also important to develop the workforce both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, in terms of skills and numbers if we are to Close the Gap,” he said.

AIDA called on the Australian Government to ensure that Indigenous Australians were recipients of the full range of any adopted report recommendations, even where these did not address Indigenous health explicitly.

“The NHHRC has also identified the poor data that exists on the types of services used by [Indigenous] people,” Commissioner Calma said.

“The Australian Government must take action to ensure the right balance of services for Indigenous people from a solid factual basis.”

Oxfam Australia Director of Policy James Ensor said the report affirmed that the Indigenous health equality gap should be the top health priority for government in any reform initiatives undertaken.

“The report is right in highlighting the vital role that Aboriginal Community Controlled Health services should play in delivering culturally appropriate services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders,” he said.

“The report is a reminder to government that they must continue to invest in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health to ensure responses are proportionate to health need.”