Close the Gap (2021)
Leadership and legacy through crises: keeping our mob safe
Prepared by the Lowitja Institute for the Close the Gap Campaign Steering Committee
On behalf of the Close the Gap Campaign’s 54 members, we invite you to engage with our 12th annual report titled, Leadership and Legacy Through Crises: Keeping our Mob safe. This year’s report was produced by the Lowitja Institute, Australia’s community controlled national institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research. In our annual reports we often repeat our recommendations, and we remain steadfast and persistent in the expectation that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing, being and doing will be respected and understood. The time for governments to deliver has long passed. This report again presents our solutions. We invite our readers to connect with the strengths-based examples of our peoples, professionals and communities managing the most complex of challenges such as climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and suicide prevention.
There are countless individual and community level success stories in Indigenous-led health policy, service delivery and human rights sectors. We chose a small section of these case studies for presentation here to demonstrate that investment in the programs that have been designed and led by our people is the most effective way to achieve better health outcomes. Self-determination is critical and to ensure that change occurs, our voices must be heard by governments at every level of society. We perpetually recommend the same approach: to involve us, to listen, to reform and invest. Be it in systemic reform, policy design, service delivery, evaluation or agreeing upon funding, “nothing about us, without us” will be the only successful approach.
There is considerable work to do. We remain the only country in the Western world that has failed to eliminate trachoma (preventable blindness) – an international embarrassment. The Indigenous youth suicide rate remains four times that of other Australian youth. We are greatly in need of finishing the unfinished business all Australians deserve: that of health equality. We should start by grasping the opportunity of the Uluru Statement from the Heart – with its full implementation of a constitutional voice, treaty and truth-telling processes. Over the past 12 months, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and allies have embraced the Black Lives Matter movement that helped inform many on the prevalence of systemic racism and the preventable deaths in custody of so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
At times of crises true leadership steps up. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders moved rapidly to safeguard communities when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. Their actions were decisive and designed with each local community in mind and avoided a potential catastrophe. Some of our homelands, once threatened with closure by governments in the past, became some of the safest places in Australia. We know what is best for our people and we are delighted to summarise some of this remarkable and ongoing work herein.
This report presents the voices of our youth—our future generations. Our young leaders are showing the way in matters of huge importance such as climate change. In the words of Seed Mob, as sea levels are rising globally, so too First Nations peoples are rising and demanding genuine action on climate change. Climate change is suffocatingly real yet our governments’ responses to the hottest of issues, the survival of all Australians and our planet, are tepid responses at best. Our northern homelands are disappearing under rising sea-levels, to the despair of Torres Strait Islander peoples attempting to sustain their communities as they have done for millennia.
In 2020 our leaders finally sat with government, negotiated and co-signed the New National Agreement on Closing the Gap as partners. The investment for health equity is relatively small but must be relative to a burden of disease 2.3 times that of other Australians. As repeated often, a country as ’great’ and wealthy as Australia is capable of delivering health equity for and with its First Nations peoples - just 3 per cent of the population.
We present the passionate and wise voices of youth protecting Country and examples of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership successfully protecting communities. We have faith that leadership within governments can and will deliver Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander equity through partnership. We offer clear recommendations. Finally, as Campaign Co-Chairs, we would like to thank the wider Australian public and our members for their ongoing support and commitment to equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Ms June Oscar AO
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner
Mr Karl Briscoe
CEO, National Association of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health
Workers and Practitioners
Close the Gap Campaign