A new strategy for Aboriginal health and wellbeing will need to involve Aboriginal people in all aspects if it is to succeed.
The gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples’ health and wellbeing is still too wide.
Aboriginal people are at higher risk of unemployment, insecure housing, family violence and chronic disease. They are overrepresented in Victoria’s prison and youth justice facilities, and in the child protection system. The list goes on.
But connection to land, family, culture and spirituality are strong protective factors against ill-health. The rich Aboriginal cultures, traditions and knowledge—that have survived decades of dispossession and discrimination—are sources of pride and resilience for Aboriginal people.
Victoria is developing a new strategy for Aboriginal health and wellbeing. The new strategy should build on these strong foundations of culture and community.
The government has formally asked for feedback on how to reshape its policies (you can read the DHSS Discussion Paper here).
It’s a good time to reflect on what’s worked, and what hasn’t.
Taking its lead from Aboriginal organisations, VCOSS is firmly of the view that Victoria should adopt policy settings that include:
- A rights-based approach underpinned by self-determination and co-design principles;
- An inclusive, Aboriginal definition of health and wellbeing that recognises the role of community, cultural identity and self-determination;
- Genuine Aboriginal participation, from start to finish;
- Improved integration and coordination to make it easier for people to access services;
- Continuity across election cycles
- Alignment with Closing the Gap targets.
- Recognition of Aboriginal organisations’ capability and skills; and
- Promotion of cultural understanding, respect and safety in mainstream settings.
There has been a propensity over recent decades to present ‘solutions’ to Aboriginal people as a fait accompli. This must end. Inclusion and genuine “co-design” will be central to any new strategy’s success. Aboriginal people must be involved in all aspects, from development to delivery and evaluation.
“Aboriginal self-determination” and “community engagement” must become more than buzz phrases. They must be implemented in practice. To this end, VCOSS strongly supports the government’s proposed inclusion of Aboriginal self-determination and co-design as guiding principles.
The Victorian Government would also be wise to draw on the success of existing Aboriginal community-controlled organisations (ACCOs). These groups have well proven and sophisticated models of integrated care and strong relationships with their communities. So why reinvent the wheel?
Statewide bodies—such as VACCHO and VACCA—and regionally-based organisations should also be given extra resources to build their workforce, strengthen their governance structures and enhance their ‘on the ground’ impact.
Of course, change must happen across the board. Aboriginal health and wellbeing isn’t the responsibility of Aboriginal organisations alone. VCOSS wants to see a stronger focus on building more culturally safe mainstream organisations, and more genuine and meaningful partnerships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal organisations. 
“Closing the gap” is a policy goal which has found its way into the public lexicon. It’s the three word slogan we can all get behind. But only with genuine Aboriginal involvement in health and wellbeing will this shift from being a (well-intentioned) slogan, to a reality.
Banner image: Flickr – Avilasal (CC)