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Indigenous health a ‘national scandal’ lobby group protests


Zoe Satherley
11 December 2006
Indigenous activist and Southern Cross University academic Professor Judy Atkinson has joined a wide cross-section of leading Australian organisations and individuals who have called for all Australian governments to commit to a plan of action to achieve health equality for Indigenous peoples within 25 years.

In a full-page petition in The Australian newspaper today, the group said it was unacceptable that Indigenous children were dying at almost three times the rate of non-Indigenous children.

“It is inconceivable that a country as wealthy as Australia cannot solve a health crisis affecting less than three per cent of its population,” the petition said.

Signatories include many leading Indigenous organisations and individuals including the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses, Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma.

Also among the signatories are the Australian Council of Social Service, Australian Red Cross, Amnesty International, Oxfam, UNICEF Australia, Save the Children Australia, Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Rural Doctors’ Association of Australia, National Children’s and Youth Law Centre, Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation and the Fred Hollows Foundation.

The petition said in part: “We, the undersigned, are deeply concerned that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have not shared in the health gains enjoyed by other Australians in the last 100 years.

“It is a national scandal that Indigenous Australians live 17 years less than other Australians. Indigenous Australians continue to needlessly suffer and die early, not from a lack of solutions or government commitments, but from a lack of political will and action.”

The petition called for bipartisan support from all levels of federal, state and territory government and the Australian community to make addressing the crisis in Indigenous health a national priority.

Professor Judy Atkinson, head of Southern Cross University’s Gnibi College of Indigenous Australian Peoples, said she applauded the initiative of the group and hoped they would now take the next step and look beyond the bio-medical model.

“We must now expand our concerns to take a more holistic approach to the issue of Indigenous health and wellbeing,” she said.

“This is a fantastic first step but we can’t stop at merely focusing attention on primary medical care,” she said.

“What is also of critical importance and is yet to be addressed is the impact of trauma, abuse – including child sexual abuse – and mental health issues on Indigenous family and community wellbeing.

“There needs to be acknowledgement that education is vital in addressing these issues at a community level and in shaping a positive future for Indigenous people – education for early childhood, education for life and education for healing.”

Photo: Professor Judy Atkinson has joined the national protest on the crisis in Indigenous health.