New Government must take a new approach to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health
BY AMA PRESIDENT DR TONY BARTONE, CHAIR OF AMA INDIGENOUS TASKFORCE
The re-elected Morrison Government is in a unique position to make meaningful policy changes to deliver enhanced health and life outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. With the appointment of the Hon Ken Wyatt MP as the first Aboriginal Minister for Indigenous Australians and the existing agreement with the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Organisations, the Government has the opportunity to draw on a wealth of Indigenous knowledge, experience and expertise to design and implement policies and programs that actually work for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.
To create real change in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, we know we need to look beyond a person’s physical health – we need to look at and address the broader social determinants – the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. This requires cooperation and unity of purpose from all relevant ministers and portfolios, as well as all levels of Australian governments – something that has continually proven to be a challenge. The AMA urges the Government to take a holistic approach to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and ensure that relevant ministerial portfolios work together to give it the attention and investment that it truly deserves.
One particular issue that requires immediate action is the increasingly serious suicide crisis among young Aboriginal people, particularly in Western Australia. We know that suicide is a major contributor to the overall health and life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their non-Indigenous peers. The AMA welcomes the Government’s recent commitments to addressing suicide among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, including the roundtable recently held by Health Minister Greg Hunt, but much more needs to be done. A good start would be to implement the recommendations of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project which looked at the effectiveness of existing suicide prevention services and programs.
The Government should also consider adopting the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which is supported by the AMA. The Uluru Statement expresses the aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to exercise self-determination – a key factor that positively affects all parts of life and a known protective factor against suicide. The concept of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander self-determination is not new to the Australian parliament, having been on the national agenda since at least the 1970s, yet Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are still waiting for their voices to be heard. Adopting the Uluru Statement of the Heart would allow a healing process to begin for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, through recognition of past and current injustices, and has the potential to underpin all government endeavors to improve the physical and mental health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.
The AMA is hopeful that, with this Government having the first Aboriginal person leading the Indigenous affairs portfolio and having a formal partnership in place with peak Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, positive health and life outcomes can be delivered for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We no longer want to see Aboriginal and Torres Trait Islander people, who represent just three per cent of the total population, suffer from the poorest health in Australia – one of the wealthiest countries in the world.
The AMA has a strong history of advocating for long-term funding and commitments to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health to close the health and life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. We will continue to call on the Government and other key stakeholders to commit to addressing the social determinants that impact on health outcomes and ensure that appropriate action is taken to produce genuine and sustainable change.
Published: 12 Jul 2019