"It is inconceivable that a country as wealthy as Australia cannot solve a health crisis affecting less than 3% of its population."
- from "Close The Gap: Solutions to the Indigenous Health Crisis facing Australia", April 2007
The NACCHO/Oxfam Australia joint report on the state of indigenous health in this country makes for heartbreaking reading. Just one small extract from the executive summary makes for a depressing introduction:
A comparative analysis of national health data for Indigenous populations in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States of America (USA) finds that Australia ranks bottom in the league table of first-world nations working to improve the health and life expectancy of Indigenous people. The key health indicators make it plain:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders die nearly 20 years younger than non-Indigenous Australians. This is in stark contrast to the USA, Canada and New Zealand where the life expectancy for Indigenous people is approximately seven years less than the non-Indigenous population
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander infant mortality is three times the rate of non-Indigenous Australians and more than 50 per cent higher than for Indigenous children in the USA and New Zealand
These health indicators are not only a national scandal: they are an international scandal when compared to recent health advances in Indigenous populations in other first-world countries.
We're told constantly that Australia is in an economic boom thanks to the sound management of its government. No country can call itself prosperous and well-managed when a significant portion of its population lives in abject poverty.
On the same day that "Closing The Gap" was released, Peter Costello was indulging in his own dreamworld in an address to the National Press Club. The full transcript can be read here.
Costello was announcing the release of the "Intergenerational Report 2", the second in a series of treasury projections required to be prepared every five years under the (and I'm not making this up) "Charter of Budget Honesty".
Read the speech. Examine the population and life expectancy charts. Count the number of times Costello uses the word "indigenous" in his speech, then add to it the number of times he uses the word "aboriginal". Zero? Then go back and read Closing The Gap again.
And be angry.
From Costello to Abbott. The Minister for Health and Ageing had this to say on Monday when asked about the Oxfam/NACCHO report:
"I think it’s fair to say that these days the problem is rarely inadequate health services. The problem is more that most Indigenous people have low levels of educational attainment, often quite poor employment records, often poor housing as well."
- source: press conference transcript, ministerial website
Not My Problem, eh Tone?
Also yesterday, the ABC announced the results of its Unforgettable Speeches poll. In third place, following Martin Luther King and Jesus Christ, came Paul Keating with his Redfern Park speech on Human Rights Day 1992, to launch the UN Year of Indigenous Persons.
A stirring, inspiring speech ends thus:
"We cannot imagine that the descendants of people whose genius and resilience maintained a culture here through fifty thousand years or more, through cataclysmic changes to the climate and environment, and who then survived two centuries of dispossession and abuse, will be denied their place in the modern Australian nation.
We cannot imagine that. We cannot imagine that we will fail.
And with the spirit that is here today I am confident that we won't.
I am confident that we will succeed in this decade."
We failed. Keating was voted out of office in 1996, replaced by the Can't Do PM. All our efforts at reconciliation have been trashed by The Man Who Won't Say Sorry.
Be angry. As an earlier champion of indigenous rights once said, Maintain your rage. Maintain it till election day.