In 2005, then Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma called on the Government to take real action and commit to helping to achieve equal health and life expectancy outcomes for Indigenous people within 25 years.
Close the Gap
In response to the report, Indigenous and non-Indigenous non-government agencies stood up first and helped to create a National Indigenous Health Equality Campaign, which in 2007 resulted in a National Close the Gap Day.
Spearheaded by Oxfam the initiative as outlined on their website:
'The aim? To bring people together, to share information — and most importantly — to take meaningful action in support of achieving Indigenous health equality by 2030.
With events ranging from workplace morning teas, to sports days, school events and public events in hospitals and offices around the country — anyone can take part and make a difference.
Equal access to healthcare is a basic human right, and in Australia, we expect it. So what if we told you that you can expect to live almost 20 years less than your next-door neighbour? You wouldn’t accept it. No-one should. But in reality, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People can expect to live up to 10–17 years less than non-Indigenous Australians. Learn more about why the health gap exists.
Equal access to healthcare is a basic human right, and in Australia, we expect it. So what if we told you that you can expect to live almost 20 years less than your next-door neighbour? You wouldn’t accept it. No-one should.
Working in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is one of the critical success factors. With continued support from the public, we can ensure the Australian Government continues to work with Indigenous communities, recommit additional funding and invest in real partnerships.'
Closing The Gap
A year after the National Close the Gap day was established the government came on board, announcing in 2008 during Rudd's government, a strategy to improve the health and lives of Indigenous people. As stated on the government website:
'In July 2008, the Rudd Government established the National Indigenous Health Equality Council, and in November of that year COAG approved the National Indigenous Reform Agreement which set out six Closing the Gap targets:
- to close the life expectancy gap within a generation
- to halve the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous children under five within a decade
- to ensure access to early childhood education for all Indigenous four year olds in remote communities within five years
- to halve the gap in reading, writing and numeracy achievements for children within a decade
- to halve the gap for Indigenous students in year 12 attainment rates by 2020 and
- to halve the gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians within a decade.
To help achieve these goals COAG identified a number of building blocks (early childhood, schooling, health, economic participation, healthy homes, safe communities and governance and leadership). It also facilitated a number of Indigenous-specific National Partnerships.'
The two campaigns work towards the same outcomes but with different approaches. National Close the Gap Day is held on the 3rd Thursday of March each year. The Closing The Gap government report comes out earlier in the year in February. The importance in knowing the difference in each of these is there is strong evidence that the objectives of the Closing the Gap run by the government continue to fall short, consistently. The importance of the continuing National Close The Gap push in awareness and government lobbying is clear. We are not on target to reach equality by 2031, as stated in this year's Closing The Gap Prime Ministers Report, 'The target to close the gap in life expectancy by 2031 is not on track based on data since the 2006 baseline.'
Knowing where to focus and support is crucial in accelerating positive health outcomes within the Indigenous community, focusing on action that is based on co-operation and in consultation with a wide range of community members.
SO, Close the Gap and Closing the Gap are two sides of the same coin; one is the non-government push for increased action and the other is the Government's response to this. What makes it difficult though is that the Government response, Closing the Gap, borrows much of its branding and its language from the non-government campaign, Close the Gap. What this means is that every year when the Close the Gap campaign calls for increased ownership and opportunity for Indigenous peoples the government responds with catch crys of how they want to do things 'with Aboriginal people and not to them', but usually fails a low way short of this goal - just as they are falling short on most of the targets that they themselves have set.