A couple of weeks ago I attended the launch of the Close the Gap campaign – to eliminate the gap between the life expectancy and opportunities for Indigenous Australians and the rest of our nation.
It was held at the Olympic Stadium in Sydney, and there was a big media contingent there in part due to the presence of Olympic champions Cathy Freeman and Ian Thorpe, who were both lending their strong support to the campaign.
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.
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……..
In my Social Justice Report 2005 to the Australian Parliament, I called for a campaign to achieve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health equality within a generation. That is how long it will take if we act now and with determination……….
Since I released the Social Justice Report last year, I have been working with a growing coalition of organisations who are determined to make a difference on Indigenous health. Thirty of these organisations signed an open letter to governments in December last year highlighting the Indigenous health crisis…………
Our primary message is not to simply scream “crisis”. Our message, and our goal, is to champion hope and to focus on solutions. This crisis is not insurmountable. We can triumph. We are making steps, but they are too slow and not broadly focused enough. It will require additional funds, although this alone is not the solution.
You can read more details of the campaign and event at the website of Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation.
Ian Thorpe and Cathy Freeman are indisputably very impressive athletes, but the way they presented themselves on that day showed them to be very impressive people. The event occured around the same time as a media frenzy about Ian Thorpe and leaks regarding a sporting drug test. None of the many media people present at the event dared directly sully the main media conference about the crucial national issue of the unequal life expectancy and opportunities of a specific group of Australians by asking direct questions about sports gossip – but when I watched a commercial TV news broadcast that night, the only story they ran about the whole event was the sports drug test gossip. It made me sick to watch trivia triumph over substance in such a blatant way – I can only imagine how angry the Indigenous and other organisations behind the campaign, and Ian Thorpe himself, felt about it.
Having said that, many media did run with the main story, which will hopefully widen public awareness and political interest in doing more to address it.