Every third Thursday of March is National Close the Gap Day. The campaign is to close the gap in health and life expectancy within a generation between First Nations people and non-Indigenous Australians. The question is how far has the gap been closed already? How far have we helped to improve the lives of First Nations People?
History of Close the Gap Day
The Close the Gap campaign came about as a result of Professor Tom Calma’s Social Justice Report in 2005 which urged governments to uphold health equality within a generation. Aboriginal people in Australia had shorter life expectancies, more illnesses, and a higher mortality rate than non-Indigenous people.
March 2006 was the inaugural meeting of the steering committee. In 2007, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) set measurable targets to track and assess changes in the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Their campaign was launched in April 2007 by patrons Catherine Freeman OAM and Ian Thorpe OAM. These goals included decreasing the mortality rate gap for children under five years old within a decade and attaining health equity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within a generation.
In his apology to Australia's indigenous peoples in February 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd vowed that his administration would work to bridge the gaps in health, education, and living standards between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians while respecting their right to self-determination. He also suggested creating a commision to "close the gap" in "life expectancy, educational achievement, and economic opportunity" between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
The Close the Gap Statement of Intent was signed on March 20, 2008, at the National Indigenous Health Equity Summit for the Close the Gap Campaign by Rudd and Brendan Nelson, who was the opposition leader at the time. The Closing the Gap Campaign adopted the Statement of Intent as its primary reference.
How Far Have We Closen The Gap
The Morrison Government has rolled out on 15 December 2021 the refreshed National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan 2021–2031. It is the national policy to help the health and wellbeing First Nations people in the next 10 years. It reflects their objectives and incorporates a holistic view of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health because it was developed in true partnership with these people. This viewpoint acknowledges how social variables affect wellbeing on the physical, social, and emotional levels as well as the positive cultural influences that can be protective.
The Australian Human Rights Commission published Closing the Gap: 10 Year Review in February 2018. The assessment looks at why Australian administrations have failed to close the health gap and why, if things keep going as they are, they won't succeed by 2030 either.
19 national socioeconomic targets in several fields are included in the National Agreement on Closing the Gap (the National Agreement), which is intended to improve the quality of life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
- Everyone enjoys long and healthy lives
- Children are born healthy and strong
- Children are engaged in high quality, culturally appropriate early childhood education in their early years
- Children thrive in their early years
- Students achieve their full learning potential
- Students reach their full potential through further education pathways
- Youth are engaged in employment or education
- Strong economic participation and development of people and their communities
- People can secure appropriate, affordable housing that is aligned with their priorities and need
- Adults are not overrepresented in the criminal justice system
- Young people are not overrepresented in the criminal justice system
- Children are not overrepresented in the child protection system
- Families and households are safe
- People enjoy high levels of social and emotional wellbeing
- People maintain a distinctive cultural, spiritual, physical and economic relationship with their land and waters
- Cultures and languages are strong, supported and flourishing
- People have access to information and services enabling participation in informed decision-making regarding their own lives
As of 6 March 2023, according to data from the Productivity Commission, a number of important Close the Gap targets are off course, and several are even regressing. Linda Burney the Minister for Indigenous Australians and a proud Wiradjuri woman, acknowledges that the divide between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians is not narrowing quickly enough. Seven are not on track to achieve their objectives, while two are. The data, according to Ms. Burney, indicated gains in employment and land rights, but declines in other areas.
What Should be Done to Help Close the Gap
Even if we saw advancements in First Nations well-being and health, there is still work that has yet to be done in order for a paradigm shift to happen. This can be achieved only by a collective action. Governments and First Nations people have to partner in planning and execution of initiatives.
“Health equity can be achieved when models and approaches are self-determined and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led.” - June Oscar AO (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner)
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have to be directly involved in these initiatives for this reason:
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership is critical because trust, belonging and knowing are at the heart of any positive change. We need transformation not just of systems, but also of the mind. We need the systems to listen and respond to good practice based on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing, being and doing that have been shared and demonstrated over many decades under colonisation.” - Lowitja Institute for the Close the Gap Steering Committee
We can also contribute to help closing the gap by supporting Indigenous businesses and First Nations-led organisations in growing economic participation to build and create employment and opportunity.
Other ways we can also do to help close the gap is by continuously educating yourself and your children. Kooriculum has lots of educational resources not only to use in your home but also share with your local schools and teachers.
Recommendations to Close the Gap can go endless. What is important is we continue to look after the well-being of First Nations people with the hope of not just improving their lives. The aim is equity; that’s why it’s called “Closing the Gap”.