Today marks National Close the Gap day. Thousands of Australians will come together to show support for Closing the Gap. As we do this, and reflect on the day’s theme “Let’s Get it Right”, we need to ask ourselves, what does it really mean to “Close the Gap”?
More than two years after committing to Closing the Gap, we’ve made some progress but much more needs to be done. There are many aspects to Closing the Gap. This reflects the diversity of perspectives and priorities about what should be done. Given the complexity of the issues, many different approaches are needed.
ANTaR sees “Close the Gap” as intrinsically linked with the principles of self-determination, Indigenous led solutions and cultural safety (addressing racism). This principle is reflected in the Close the Gap Coalition’s shadow report, which calls on the Federal Government to meet its commitment in developing a national action plan to Close the Gap by 2030, to engaging in genuine partnership with Indigenous people and providing greater support for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community controlled health services to lead improvements in health and wellbeing.
Indigenous leaders have repeatedly called for locally driven solutions that are Indigenous-led. They have pointed to evidence from Australia and overseas that this is “what works”, rather than top-down, one size fits all approaches.
Today we recognise the underlying causes of the Gap in Indigenous-non-Indigenous health outcomes. As former Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma said, the gap is symptomatic of a huge divide between the opportunities available to black and white Australians. The Gap is a symptom that will continue to present until we work to treat the inequality and cultural disrespect still plaguing Australian society. To do this, we need to create awareness within the non-Indigenous community and work with non-Indigenous institutions to address issues of racism and create an environment of cultural respect.
An ever-expanding body of evidence is finding that racism and cultural disrespect impacts on health and wellbeing. Recent reports by the Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health and Flinders University have shown that racism against Indigenous people is still widespread, and numerous studies support the view that current inequalities in terms of health, education, employment and justice can be linked to racism.
These issues have not received as much attention in current discourses around Closing the Gap. Rather the Federal Government’s Closing the Gap rhetoric has focused narrowly on improving Indigenous health outcomes and taking some of the sting out of statistical comparisons. The government’s willingness to act is laudable. However, there is another conceptual shift that needs to happen if we are to truly Close the Gap. We need to move beyond treating the symptoms of disadvantage and look at the causes - at our attitudes, structures, policies and practices - to create culturally safe environments that support Indigenous-led initiatives. In our efforts to Close the Gap, we must question what it is we will see on the other side of it.
Closing the Gap requires a commitment to partnership. In doing this, we recognise where we have come together so far on our journey and acknowledge that the next step is about creating even more success stories, even more evidence for “what works”. In a recent speech, Professor Mick Dodson quoting his friend Fred Chaney said that we need to get rid of the “start again” syndrome and start looking at the evidence - to see the points of light all around us and join them up.
Closing the Gap, then, is about having the confidence and the courage to take our learning and commitment even further. That means educating ourselves and others continuously and to be open to the realities and challenges of Closing the Gap. To be confident to act, but with awareness and reflection, so that we act out of wisdom instead of trampling our way through in the dark, or falling back into old familiar patterns of dominance and control. To act knowing that there are many committed people and organisations, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, that we can draw on for support.
This year also marks the 10th anniversary of a number of significant events - Corroboree 2000, Cathy Freeman winning gold in the Olympics, the Reconciliation Bridge walks across the country and the final report of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation. This year ANTaR Victoria is asking Are We There Yet? We are launching a year of recommitment to Reconciliation and aim to reignite public support for addressing the unfinished business of reconciliation.
Victorian Aboriginal leader Muriel Bamblett recently said that Closing the Gap in health and wellbeing outcomes will not work if we cannot Close the Gap in our relationships. This is what it really means to Close the Gap.
This article is an excerpt from a speech the author will be giving today at a Close the Gap Day event being organised by the Brotherhood of St Laurence and ANTaR Victoria.
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