Australia’s “Closing the Gap” Campaign Has Done Nothing for Indigenous People

Indigenous Australian communities lack access to many basic necessities such as adequate housing, clean drinking water, functional sewage systems, electricity and health services. These conditions result in an overall poor quality of life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Ten years ago, the Australian government piloted the “Closing the Gap” campaign designed to eliminate the stark differences in life expectancy between Indigenous peoples and other Australians by the year 2030. However, according to the recent report, conditions for Indigenous Australians have not improved at all. In fact, they have worsened.

The mortality and life expectancy gaps between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians are growing even greater. Almost half of Aboriginal men and over a third of Aboriginal women die before they turn 45. The life expectancy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males is 69.1 years and 73.7 years for females, which is 10.6 and 9.5 years lower than the life expectancy of non-Indigenous males and females respectively.

Another major issue for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is their poor ophthalmic health. Aboriginal Australians are three times more likely to go blind than other Australians. According to the Fred Hollows Foundation, an Australian charity organization that aims to end avoidable blindness among indigenous peoples, “over half of children die within a few years of going blind, either from the underlying disease or the inability of their impoverished families to care for them.” Such visual impairment perpetuates the cycle of poverty for Aboriginal people by rendering them disabled and in need of care and assistance that is unavailable in their communities.

Just as troubling is the fact that 94% of vision loss for Indigenous adults is preventable or treatable, but they do not have access to affordable healthcare, or any healthcare at all. Shockingly, there’s only one ophthalmologist in all of the Central Australia region. This theme generally holds true regarding Indigenous health: Aboriginal peoples are hospitalized for preventable conditions at five times the rate of other Australians. The Royal Australasian College of Physicians describes the extensive health inequities in Indigenous communities as both “avoidable and systematic.”

As the Australian government considers future plans to equalize health outcomes of Aboriginal people, it is crucial that they learn from the shortcomings of the defunct Closing the Gap campaign. Over the course of its ten year life, the Closing the Gap campaign suffered heavy handed budget cuts, which were ultimately a significant factor in its failure. Health services are severely underfunded by the Australian government and have been for decades. According to the 2018 report, for the duration of the Closing the Gap Strategy, the Australian government’s expenditure was not proportionate with the “substantially greater and more complex health needs” of Aboriginal people. It’s time to devote significant funds towards aiding Aboriginal communities.

Also, the recent redesign process of the Closing the Gap Strategy has neglected to include indigenous people’s input in a meaningful way. In the 2018 report, the Close the Gap Campaign Steering Committee reported that the redesign process “has been maligned with rushed and poor engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders and communities.” It is intuitive that Indigenous people should be involved in the process of creating solutions to aid their own communities which they naturally know best on a first-hand level.

Out of the failure of the Closing the Gap strategy, there is an opportunity to create a more comprehensive and beneficial plan. This time around the Australian government must seriously commit to helping suffering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Photo: Patrick Savalle

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