More than 30,000 people across Australia are today taking part in National Close the Gap Day (Thursday 25 March) to send a strong message to government to get its approach right on addressing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health crisis.

Close the Gap steering committee co-chair Mick Gooda said more than 550 events in homes, schools, workplaces, community halls, churches, public spaces, government departments and Aboriginal and mainstream health services would celebrate the progress in the campaign to close the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non- Indigenous Australians and urge further action by government. “Thousands more people are taking part in National Close the Gap Day this year, showing that public interest in ‘closing the gap’ is growing,” Mr Gooda said. “It’s clear that people do not want the government to take the foot off the pedal now, they expect the government to get it right and meet all of their commitments to close the gap.” Mr Gooda pointed to the second anniversary (on 20 March) of the historic signing of the Statement of Intent between the Government and Opposition of Australia and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia – to work together to achieve equality in health status and life expectancy between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians by the year 2030. “It’s two years since we committed to ensuring the full participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their representative bodies in all aspects of addressing their health needs,” he said. “I think today’s events send a clear reminder to government that closing the gap must remain one of its top priorities.”

Close the Gap steering committee co-chair Tom Calma said while the Government’s support for the goals of the Close the Gap campaign had brought about some big achievements, such as the Council of Australian Governments’ $1.6 billion injection into Indigenous health and robust engagement with the Close the Gap Steering Committee, gaps remained in the Government’s approach. As the Close the Gap campaign’s Shadow Report on progress highlighted last month, the government is yet to deliver on its commitment to a comprehensive action plan, working in genuine partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and greater investment in Aboriginal Community Controlled health, recognised as the best model of delivering health care for Indigenous Australians. “This year, the variety of events on National Close the Gap Day is again huge – from school children creating Indigenous artwork to community forums, from morning teas to university barbecues and Aboriginal community controlled health services open days,” Mr Calma said.

“These people are aware of the human tragedy that lies behind the statistics on Aboriginal health – that babies born to Indigenous mothers die at twice the rate of other babies, Indigenous Australian men suffer heart disease and stroke at three times the rate of other Australian men, and Indigenous Australian women die from cervical cancer at a rate five times higher than their non-Indigenous counterparts. They are also aware that government urgently needs to get its approach right if we are to close the gap within a generation. “As I have said before, it is not credible to suggest that one of the wealthiest nations on earth cannot solve a health crisis affecting less than three per cent of its citizens.”

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