• The partnership is committed to improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and justice outcomes through addressing racism. (Supplied: Facebook)Source: Supplied: Facebook
Top Indigenous academics, legal experts and peak health organisations are banding together to tackle systemic racism within the health and justice systems.
Douglas Smith

23 May 2021 - 11:13 AM  UPDATED 25 May 2021 - 11:31 AM

A coalition of Aboriginal organisations are building momentum for their initiative that advocates for victims of preventable deaths within the health and justice system.  

The Partnership for Justice in Health was formed in 2017 to pursue and demand a change to the shocking mortality rates of First Nations people within the two systems. It has now launched a website and is calling for national action.

The initiative cites the death of Wiradjuri woman Naomi Williams and her unborn child at Tumut Hospital in January 2016 as a major catalyst for their push for change. A coronial inquest into Ms Williams' death prompted that health district to address the levels of implicit bias and improve its representation of Indigenous workers.

Munanjahli and South Sea Islander Associate Professor at the University of Queensland, Dr Chelsea Watego told NITV News that the group would focus on tackling systemic racism at its root. 

“The problem is, you can study a health degree in this country right now and you can do... the Indigenous health component of it, without being taught anything about race or racism,” Dr Watego said.

“(And) if you do an analysis of the kinds of research the National Health and Medical Research Council currently funds... it (produces) racialised knowledge that blames Indigenous peoples for our poor health, and that's the problem."

Dr Watego said race played a major role in the deaths of many Indigenous people across Australia in both the general healthcare and justice health systems, and there needs to be more investment for anti-racism.

“We have these statements of claim that we want to do away with racism, that we’re against racism, but we don’t have a strategy informing how to do that,” she said. 

“Currently the knowledge space is not working to undermine how racism works, it's actually reinforcing the racialised logics that make it seem natural for Blackfullas to be dying early, (or) dying of asthma attacks in prison.”

Nationwide anti-racism push

The partnership's launch was preceded by years of collaboration and consultation between health and justice groups, strategising on how to implement anti-racism initiatives across Australia.

Co-chair of the partnership and Kuku Yalanji man Karl Briscoe, told NITV News that one area for improvement was investing more into training and employment of Indigenous healthcare professionals across the country, including within the prison systems.

"We've heard so many cases of our mob going into the justice system, and then not being afforded the level of healthcare that they should be afforded," said Mr Briscoe. 

"We have a vision of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people enjoying health and well-being that is free of racism in the health and justice systems.

The partnership is a collaboration between the  Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association, Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives, Indigenous Allied Health Australia, Institute for Collaborative Race Research, The Lowitja Institute, National Association of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health Workers & Practitioners, Abstarr Consulting and the National Justice Project.

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