Closing the Gap has a long way to go

Almost 10 years have passed since the Closing the Gap program was launched.

It followed the release of a report in 2005, by Tom Calma, the then Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, which called on governments to commit to achieving equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the areas of health and life expectancy within 25 years.

In February, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull presented the latest Closing the Gap annual report to Parliament, revealing only one of the seven targets set a decade ago was on track.

While the report outlined a nine per cent decline in smoking rates for Indigenous people aged 15 or over between 2002 and 2014-15, there was not much else to celebrate.

Last year, a survey in the Hunter New England health district showed the biggest gaps in experience between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal patients was in communication. 

The report found Aboriginal patients were less likely to say “nurses ‘always’ knew enough about their care and treatment” and the “health professional ‘completely’ explained what would be done in surgery”. 

There was also a noticed gap in Aboriginal patient’s impressions on whether their “doctors ‘always’ answered important questions in an understandable way”. 

We commend Armujun and Hunter New England Health for their approach in working together in what is clearly a difficult area.

Allowing Armujun to tap into the facilities run by Hunter New England Health is only a small step, but it is a step in right direction. 

Clearly, there is much more to be done in coming years.

An Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander will die 10 to 17 years younger than other Australians on average. 

It is a sobering statistic and one that we can no longer ignore. 

According to Oxfam, “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have some of the poorest health outcomes of any group of people in the world”. 

These are people in our own backyard – our friends, family, neighbours, colleagues. 

And what the statistics tell us, is that while we have come a little way in bridging the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, there is still a long way to go to Close the Gap.