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A scene of a desert.
Mparntwe Arrente Country. Amber Rose Atkinson, Lowitja Institute., Author provided (no reuse)

The Uluru Statement must be core to promises made by all parties in the lead-up to the federal election

The Close the Gap 2022 report calls on governments to make “large-scale systemic reforms to truly empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.” This is a call to recognise and support self-determination and leadership.

It is no accident that the very first recommendation of the Close the Gap Campaign Report 2022 is for the full implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and particularly for a Voice to Parliament.

The Uluru Statement is described as a “gift to all Australians” by one of its architects, Pat Anderson, the long-term chair of the Lowitja Institute.

The Uluru Statement is foundational for change in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and well-being. Therefore, it must be core to the promises made by all parties in the lead-up to the federal election and beyond. Yet it has been sidelined by the Coalition government so far, and is at risk of being abandoned at the coming federal election.

Read more: Victoria’s prison health care system should match community health care

Transforming power

At this federal election, change that tinkers at the edges is not good enough.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people need the system – the health and education systems in particular but, also the Australian political system – to listen and respond to Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing. To be free of racism. To hear our Voice.

The full implementation of the Uluru Statement, and its call for Voice, Treaty and Truth would be a huge step forward. This would be an opportunity to address the health inequity between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous Australians.

Recognition of the distinct identities and cultures of Indigenous Australia is vitally important for the health and well-being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. For our peoples, culture is key to understanding our health and well-being, shaping the connection between self to Country, kin, community and spirituality. Moreover, it is important for the collective pride of all Australians.

A Voice to Parliament would provide the basis for a better social contract – where both Aboriginal and non-Indigenous people know where they stand. This is an opportunity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to work together on equal ground to find solutions to problems affecting both Aboriginal and non-Indigenous people.

The Voice to Parliament could help ensure calls from community to address issues such as climate change, the COVID pandemic, escalating mental health issues, deepening chronic health conditions, and other crises are heard and acted on by government.

As we await the full implementation of the Uluru Statement, Lowitja Institute is calling on the next federal government to invest in robust, equitable, transparent, and culturally safe health systems that meet the needs of our peoples.

We have identified five key priorities the federal government needs to address:

1. Embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research leadership

Governments need to invest in:

  • research into the impacts of systemic racism in health systems led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and researchers

  • a long-term National Anti-Racism Framework, including monitoring and reporting on experiences of racism and the impacts of systemic racism in health systems

  • a feasibility study for a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research Ethics Committee to embed ethical frameworks that are based in our own cultural laws and lore.

2. Implement the social and cultural determinants of health

We are calling on governments to support strengths-based approaches to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health policy by:

  • investing in initiatives that strengthen cultural authority, including traditional community governance and nation building, such as Aboriginal community controlled health organisations

  • investing in cultural safety and cultural determinants training for the healthcare workforce to address and eliminate racism.

3. Invest in data governance and infrastructure

In line with the government’s commitments under the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, we are calling on governments to invest in:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led data at the local level that is owned and accessed by our peoples, with the principles of data governance and sovereignty that respects our right to data ownership, management, collection, dissemination and analysis

  • national digital infrastructure, such as an Indigenous Well-being Index, to measure the socioeconomic well-being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Not unlike Canada’s Community Wellbeing Index, this would streamline access to Indigenous health data and analysis for research and policy sectors, and most importantly for our own communities to make informed decisions for our future.

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4. Commitment to workforce development

We are also calling on governments to:

  • invest in infrastructure to develop both the expertise and workforce of Indigenous health researchers, including through additional research projects and scholarships, and

  • increase support and investment in workforce development to support the growth of the Aboriginal community controlled organisations and community-led health services.

5. Action to address climate change

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a huge stake in the climate crisis.

Read more: Indigenous peoples across the globe are uniquely equipped to deal with the climate crisis – so why are we being left out of these conversations?

Not only because it is already disproportionately affecting the health and well-being of our peoples, but also because our knowledges and cultural practices hold solutions to the climate crisis. We are intimately connected to Country. Our local knowledges are precious, and we must be part of the conversation when it comes to climate adaptation and mitigation planning.

A Voice to Parliament can provide an avenue for this wisdom to be formally recognised.

It’s time to step up

The Uluru Statement from the Heart provides the blueprint for the political transformation this nation requires. The federal government must embrace, respect and respond to its calls for self-determination, and walking together. This is a vital step to close the gap in health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

We must work together if we are to transform our political systems. We need non-Indigenous people to walk behind and with us on this journey, to know when to stand up and when to step back. Now is the time to step up and call for change.

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