● The figures paint a staggering reality. Indigenous men and women die 17 years earlier than other Australians.
● Indigenous children are dying at almost three times the rate of non-indigenous children.
● Many indigenous people suffer chronic diseases, which are entirely preventable and have virtually been eliminated in the non-indigenous population.
● Indigenous access to primary health care remains extremely poor.
● These are not mere statistics. These people are real Australians who are suffering and dying daily.
● They are someone's grandparents, parents, children, brothers or sisters, aunties or uncles.
● Indigenous Australians want the situation to change, but we need support and encouragement to make this change.
● The situation is perverse and illogical for a country of Australia's social and economic standing.
● How can the majority of the Australian population enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world, and yet Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people endure a health situation comparable with many Third World countries?
● For many Australians, out of sight is out of mind, or their view of indigenous Australia is clouded by negativity in the media.
● Politicians wax lyrical about human rights injustices throughout the world, but seem to disregard what is taking place in their own back yard.
● How can such inequality and injustice take place in a country where everyone is supposed to be treated equally and given a fair go?
● Because make no mistake, the health status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is a national shame.
● We stand diminished as a nation and as individuals by ignoring the plight of our fellow Australians.
● It is simply not acceptable for governments to continually state that the situation is tragic, then to say it should be treated with urgency and then fail to put in place targets, funding and time- frames to address the issue.
● But it doesn't have to be this way.
● Dramatic improvements in health status and gains on many issues can be achieved within short time frames.
● In Canada, New Zealand and the United Stated, the health of indigenous people has been rapidly improved by determined and concerted government action.
● This has included support in identifying, implementing and managing solutions.
● Indigenous and non-indigenous organisations, reconciliation and human rights groups, NGOs and key health bodies and agencies have formed a partnership.
● They have committed to work with indigenous peoples and communities, as well as governments, to achieve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health equality within a generation.
● The campaign, which was launched yesterday, is focused on an equitable distribution of primary health care, including infrastructure for water, sanitation food and housing within 10 years.
● There is also a commitment to achieving equality of health and life expectancy within 25 years.
● Addressing inequality in health status is not insurmountable, although it will require long-term action and a focused commitment.
● Rapid achievements can be made by comprehensive and well-resourced government action.
● It also requires the active and meaningful participation of indigenous people in the design, management and delivery of indigenous policy, health programmes, services and infrastructure.
● If we do not rise to the occasion, things are likely to get much worse.
● The indigenous population is younger and growing faster than the non-indigenous population.
● Unless we act now there is the risk that the next generations will inherit the burden of ill – health.
● Almost 40 years ago, all Australians voted to recognise the rights of indigenous Australians in the historic 1967 referendum.
● Only with the support of all Australians will we see real improvements in indigenous health.
● Surely, there is no greater challenge to this country's sense of decency, fairness and egalitarianism than addressing the status of indigenous health.
Tom Calma is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner.
Pg 19 Herald Sun, Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Statistical Indigenous Issues Supplied by Evangelical Alliance of Australia
1. The latest 2001 census results show an increase of 16% in those identifying as Indigenous since the last census in 1996. The total population now stands and 460,000, or 2.3% of the total Australian population.
2. Incarceration Although less than 2% of Australia's population are adult (or Juvenile, ie over 16) 20% of the national prison population is Indigenous. 40% of those in juvenile detention are Indigenous.
3. Deaths in Custody is directly related to the high incarceration rates. A Royal Commission handed down 339 recommendations in 1991 designed to reduce incarceration and deaths in custody. Nothing has changed (deaths in police custody have fallen but deaths in prisons have increased) and most of the recommendations have collected dust.
4. Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation The Council set up in 1991 under bi-partisan legislation handed down significant recommendations to the Federal Government in 2001. The Government so far has ignored it.
5. Stolen Generations The 'Bringing Them Home' Report, released in 1997, contained the results of hundreds of stories of adults forcibly removed as children. The Government's response to this report is belittling and demeaning, implying that because not all children were removed, therefore there was no such thing as a 'stolen generation'.
6. Treaty Although virtually all other former British colonies, eg New Zealand, Canada and the USA have negotiated treaties with their Indigenous people, Australia strongly resists such calls stating that treaties can only exist between nations!
7. Support for the Indigenous Church The Indigenous Church is 'Australia's Cinderella'. It was only in 1996 that for the first time in Australia's (Anglican) history, a fund was established in Sydney Diocese to enable an Aboriginal minister to be appointed to a Sydney suburban Church. For the most part, most Christians are oblivious to the plight of Aborigines - including their Aboriginal Christian brothers and sisters.
8. Prison Chaplaincy Despite the shocking incarceration rate noted above, it is doubtful whether there is a single employed Indigenous prison chaplain in Australia. Many pastors visit prisons as 'religious visits' but they are unpaid. Some receive 'out-of-pocket' expenses.
9. Health Although Medicare is for 'all Australians', many in remote areas do not have access to medical facilities. Indigenous health is far worse than the average. Diabetes is 12 times the average. Infant mortality is 2-3 times the average. Otitus Media (an ear infection) is common in Aboriginal children but rare in the general population. Respiratory and Circulatory disease is higher in Indigenous populations.
10. Dysfunction There are many historical reasons why there seems to be an escalation in community dysfunction. Forced removal, lack of amenities, withholding of aboriginal wages, racist attitudes to name a few. Also the absurd (government enforced) policy whereby much of a community's income is derived from the sale of alcohol. Aboriginal women are 40 times more likely to suffer domestic violence than those in the Australian community. Youth suicide is endemic (17 deaths in one community in 12 months). Murder and sexual abuse is also out of control.
11. Longevity Indigenous males live 20 years less than the average, and females 15 years less.
12. Land Rights Most land under Aboriginal ownership was granted in the 1970s and 1980s under State and Federal Land Rights legislations. This land is mostly desert and former pastoral land in the Northern Territory, and South Australia (including land from where Aborigines were removed in the 1950s to make way for the British/Australian Atomic bomb tests). Since the Mabo High Court Decision in 1992 and subsequent Native Title legislation only a tiny proportion of land has been found to be Native Title - about 0.45% of Australia (90% in desert country in WA). There are about 600 claims outstanding - some going back 6-7 years.
13. Unemployment is 23%. For males it is 48%. About 30,000 Aborigines work under CDEP (work for the dole).
14. Schooling 33% of Aboriginal kids complete secondary school compared with 70% for other Australians.
15. Home Ownership 28% own their own homes compared with 70% for other Australians.
16. The Howard Government has:
- Refused to apologise.
- Dumped the Social Justice Package (of the previous government).
- Failed to respond to the Council for Aboriginal reconciliation.
- Removed 'Reconciliation' from Ministerial portfolio.
- Spent $18 defending stolen generation appeals for compensation.
17. The Shadow Prime Minister Simon Crean has said a future Labor government would apologise, but has been careful not to commit himself as to what that might mean.