Page 889 - Week 03 - Wednesday, 18 March 2015

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Today, gaps continue to persist in health, including the social determinants of health, such as housing, education and employment. More still needs to be done in order to achieve the nation’s goal of closing the gap by 2031.

The Prime Minister’s 2015 report on closing the gap indicates areas where successive governments are failing to meet the targets. We are not on track to meet the target of closing the life expectancy gap by 2031. We are failing to meet the target to ensure Indigenous four-year-olds have access to early childhood education by 2013. We have failed that one.

There has been no progress in halving the gap for Indigenous children in reading, writing and numeracy by 2018. There has been no progress in halving the gap in employment outcomes by 2018. Yet we have halved the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous children under five, and halved the gap for Indigenous Australians aged 20 to 24 in year 12 attainment.

The close the gap steering committee, in their 2015 progress and priorities report, pointed to the reductions in smoking rates—an area the ACT has made progress on with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tobacco control strategy—improvements to maternal and child health outcomes, and demonstrated inroads into the impact of chronic diseases as evidence that the closing the gap strategy is working.

We also need to remember the importance of reconciliation and working in partnership with Aboriginal communities to achieve this change. Aboriginal community-controlled health services are making a significant impact against both the health and education related close the gap targets.

The close the gap campaign steering committee also found that these services provide the best return on investment in terms of providing both access to health services and the quality of those health services, as well as being major employers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. These community organisations and health services need funding and support in order to ensure their continued success.

The ACT has made some progress in closing the gap in health and education outcomes through a number of targeted programs. I note in particular that the percentage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students completing year 12 in the ACT will, on current trends, soon equal the average percentage of all students completing year 12.

It is also significant to note that in Australia we have recently achieved parity in the number of first-year Indigenous medical students with the proportion of Indigenous people in the Australian population.

Governments must maintain their commitment to Indigenous Australia but also remember that it will take time and that we still have a long way to go. As Matthew Cooke, Chairperson of NACCHO, noted, “Closing the gap is about generational changes and there are no quick fixes.”

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