Ten years of Close the Gap; Why are we sicker, poorer and living shorter than the rest of Australia?


Opinion: Governments continue to fail at meeting Close the Gap targets, in some cases going backwards. Patricia Turner points to solutions already working in some communities, and asks our leaders; why they can't do better for First Australians.


  Patricia Turner

16 Mar 2017 - 8:10 AM  UPDATED 16 Mar 2017 - 8:10 AM

We’ve had almost a decade of promises by successive federal governments to close the health gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous Australians. But the facts remain unchanged. We have shorter lifespans and we are sicker and poorer than the average non-Indigenous Australian.

Governments at all levels continue to fail Australia’s First Peoples. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s most recent Closing the Gap report to Parliament, in February 2017, was not good news. Most of the Closing the Gap targets are unlikely to be met by 2030. Frustratingly, child mortality rates are going backwards.

Today, we release the Close the Gap Campaign’s 2017 Progress and Priorities Report. It reflects on the continuing failure of the Government’s Closing the Gap Strategy and puts forward recommendations that can begin to turn the tide.  


A ground breaking study into stress levels could fast-track the closing of the health gap, according to experts.


As a co-chair of Close the Gap Campaign and CEO of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, I see the impact of a lack of coordination between federal, state and territory governments on addressing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

The Federal Government’s recent announcement to refresh the Closing the Gap strategy is timely. A dialogue should begin immediately with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak health organisations on how to address the health challenges our people face.    

We expect much more from the state and territory governments. The Federal Government has a clear leadership role but the states are simply not doing enough to address inequality in their jurisdictions.

For a start, new arrangements between state, territory and federal governments must begin with a clear focus on addressing the social and cultural determinants of health.

We need to take account of the factors that contribute to good health: housing, education, employment and access to justice. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders from across these sectors are already working together to make these policy connections – governments must follow suit.  

Indigenous children are the real losers in the failure to meet Close the Gap targets.


Cultural determinants matter. There is abundant evidence about the importance of self-determination, freedom from the grind of casual and systemic racism, discrimination and poverty. Achieving health equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will be impossible without a sincere, committed effort to understand and address racism in this country. That is why the Close the Gap Campaign continues to call for a national inquiry into the prevalence of racism and its impact.

The old cliché about persisting with the same failure in the hope of a different outcome is sadly the lived reality of much of the government policies regarding our people. It is time to do something different.

Last year, 140 Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations (ACCHOs) provided nearly 3 million episodes of care to over 340,000 clients by more than 3000 Indigenous staff. It is clear that putting Aboriginal health in Aboriginal hands works.


This evocative video illustrates the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth
A collaboration between Kuku Yalanji actor/producer Bjorn Stewart and non-Indigenous producer Tess Waldron, this viral video draws attention to the disparity of equality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous young people.


Recently, Flinders University highlighted the success of the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress in Alice Springs, noting its ability to provide a one stop-shop with outreach services, free medicine and advocacy. The benefits of having Aboriginal health in Aboriginal hands are evident in other case studies which show reductions in the numbers of young smokers, increased immunisations rates, and increased numbers of child health checks in our local communities.

Today is National Close the Gap Day. It is a day to acknowledge our resilience and a day to focus attention on the significant gap in health equality.

We ask that the Federal Government replace its rhetoric about economic empowerment with significant public policy initiatives that produce specific outcomes. Politicians often speak about the optimism, resilience and determination of our people. Let’s now hear about meaningful actions, engagement and self-determination for us all.

Patricia Turner is the CEO of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation and co-chair of the Close the Gap Campaign.