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Now more than ever, we need to work to close the gap in Aboriginal health

Despite living in a wealthy country with a 21st century health system , in Victoria today the Aboriginal child mortality rate is still higher than the non-Aboriginal rate, and Aboriginal life expectancy is still lower than for the rest of the community.

Aboriginal people are also hospitalised at about twice the rate of non-Aboriginal people for respiratory disease and diabetes.

These comparisons show that Aboriginal Victorians continue to experience poorer health outcomes than non-Aboriginal Victorians across a whole range of indicators.

In the lead-up to the 2014 Victorian State Election, all sides of the political spectrum must show real commitment to addressing Aboriginal health outcomes if these disparities are to be reduced.

To help do this, the Coalition for Aboriginal Health Equality Victoria (CAHEV) is launching Closing the Gap: Now more than ever, a Victorian state election platform.

CAHEV is comprised of community controlled and mainstream civil society organisations, including VCOSS, which have committed to the Statement of Intent to Close the Gap in Indigenous Health Outcomes.

CAHEV is calling for:

  • A renewed commitment to partnership with the Commonwealth to close the gap in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health outcomes;
  • Significant investment in infrastructure for Aboriginal community controlled health organisations;
  • Aboriginal community and sector engagement in the development and implementation of initiatives relevant to Aboriginal Victorians, including through the Department of Health adopting the Aboriginal Roundtable and Community Conversation model employed by DHS;
  • Implementation of the Victorian Auditor-General’s Report into the Accessibility of Mainstream Services for Aboriginal Victorians including through the development of a comprehensive Cultural Safety Strategy; and
  • Strategies to improve the health literacy of Aboriginal Victorians.

The 2014 Victorian State Election is also occurring in the context of uncertainty and threats to federal funding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs in the health, legal and family support sectors.

Important National Partnership Agreements, including Closing the Gap in Indigenous Health Outcomes have expired, and the COAG Reform Council has been disbanded.

The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services and other peak advocacy bodies are all facing cuts to funding.

Aboriginal leaders in Canberra recently said that “despite the Australian Government’s assurances to the contrary, budget cuts to Indigenous Affairs are impairing the ability of community controlled organisations to deliver frontline services in critical areas such as legal assistance, family violence, children, youth, women, drug and alcohol use, and health.”

To address the significant disparity in health and wellbeing outcomes experienced by Aboriginal Victorians we need a culturally responsive system and additional support for Aboriginal community controlled organisations that offer culturally safe services.

Aboriginal organisations and communities need clarity and certainty from all levels of government. Any Victorian Government has an important role in supporting Aboriginal organisations, engaging with Aboriginal communities in planning and policy development and influencing the Commonwealth Government to continue its commitment to closing the gap.

The Coalition for Aboriginal Health Equality Victoria’s state election platform Closing the Gap: Now more than ever, is a good place for the next Victorian government to start.