“Contrary to today’s headlines, investment in Indigenous Australia pays off”

Australian Human Rights Commission media release:

“The Close the Gap Campaign for Indigenous Health Equality disagrees with claims that billions of dollars of investment in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and people since the 1970s has had little or no impact.

Campaign Co- Chair Dr Tom Calma said it was important to address this persistent misconception. He said while some wastage had occurred – as it had in all areas of government – the overall investment of tax dollars had resulted in concrete, practical improvements to the lives of Indigenous Australians.

Dr Tom Calma said while further work and investment was needed, Indigenous life expectancy had increased, despite the gap in life expectancy that remains with other Australians. He said that Indigenous infant mortality rate was falling and on track to be equal with the non-indigenous rate by 2018.

“Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services have grown from a handful in the early 1970s to over 150 which means that many communities which had no access to primary health care now do,” Dr Calma said.

“Today’s headlines also characterise the Closing the Gap programs as a failure. This too needs challenging and in fact the report say the contrary.

“As these intergenerational programs were announced in November 2008, an assessment in 2009-10 makes no sense. The impact of programs addressing chronic disease, for example, will be measured over decades,” he said.

“These programs are targeted programs and as such represent a significant change from previous ones.”

He said the Close the Gap Campaign (as opposed to the Closing the Gap programs of the Australian Government) advocated for Australian governments to work in a new way with Indigenous Australians – an approach based on genuine partnership.

“It’s time that some of the red tape around our services – health services being a notable example – was removed,” he said.

“Far too often approaches and programs are generated in Canberra and imposed on us – and then we get blamed when they don’t work. Australian governments needed to listen to what Indigenous people had to say about some of these issues.

“Closing the gap will take time – we have a target date of 2030 to close the gap in life expectancy- we need properly funded programs and we need bipartisan support for these over the long-term,” he said.

Dr Calma said that most importantly, since COAG signed on to the Close the Gap Indigenous Health equality ethos in 2007, significant partnerships and foundations had been laid and open and robust dialogue with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples has commenced.