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Close the gap

By Tom Calma - posted Wednesday, 18 April 2007

At all stages of the life cycle, Indigenous Australians are in a dire health situation compared to their fellow citizens.

There have been some improvements in recent years, but there's a long way to go. Indigenous peoples make gains but they are often smaller than those made by the non-Indigenous population - so the disparity in life chances remains static. In fact, there has been very little reduction in this inequality gap in Australia in the past decade.

We know the statistics well. Governments probably know them better than most - they have been stating how tragic these figures are and how committed they are to addressing them for some time. Earlier this week, for example, the Federal Health Minister stated that we should be very disappointed at the slow progress in respect of Indigenous health.


Yet despite decades of commitments from governments, we have no positive vision for when the health crisis facing Indigenous peoples will be dealt with and consigned to the history pages.

Indigenous peoples in this country still do not have equal access to primary health care or to the infrastructure that can promote healthy living that all other Australians take for granted.

But why? The simple answer is - a state of lethargy currently exists in Australia in dealing with this crisis.

As a nation, we pride ourselves on being the “lucky country” and on giving everyone a “fair go”. Yet we remain largely unconcerned that the basic facilities for good health do not exist for many Indigenous peoples.

Governments cannot guarantee that their citizens will be healthy - that involves individual choice and freedom. But they can guarantee that every opportunity has been provided to facilitate this outcome.

This is not a level playing field - an Indigenous child born today does not have the same life chance as a non-Indigenous child.


The call that we make today is for governments, working with Indigenous people, with non-government organisations and the broader Australian community, to shake off this lethargy. Let's stop being disappointed at our lack of achievement on Indigenous health and dare to dream about a positive future for all Australians.

To do so is not a pipedream. For we know that overcoming Indigenous inequality in health status is achievable.

There are examples of rapid gains in health status being made with focused, deliberate steps being taken. Steps that are backed with resources and driven by timelines. This is the lesson from countries like Canada and the US. And it is the lesson from various trials conducted within Australia.

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This is an edited version of the speech delivered by Tom Calma at the launch of the Close the Gap campaign in Sydney on April 4, 2007. The campaign was officially launched by Catherine Freeman, Ian Thorpe, Henry Councillor and Jeff McMullen.

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About the Author

Mr Tom Calma is the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner and acting Race Discrimination Commissioner.

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