As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders moved swiftly to protect their communities.
It was these decisions and actions that kept Indigenous communities safe from the coronavirus and made them some of the safest places in the country.
As the 2021 Close the Gap report is released today, June Oscar and Karl Briscoe, co-chairs of the Close the Gap campaign, said self-determination is key to improving health outcomes for Indigenous people.
“During COVID-19, Aboriginal leaders moved quickly and decisively to safeguard communities. We proved again what we have always known that programs that are designed and led by our people are the most effective way to achieve better health outcomes. We need them fully funded,” Oscar and Briscoe said in a statement.
“Self-determination is critical to ensure that change occurs, our voices must be heard by governments at every level of society.”
The pandemic is the ultimate proof that self-determination and empowering communities works. Indigenous communities kept the rate of COVID-19 infections six times lower than the rest of the Australian population, according to the report.
“Behind these results is a story of how effective it is to empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, organisations and communities, and to trust that they have the solutions,” the report states.
“The rapid public health control measures put in place were led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health leaders and services who understood the risks and worked tirelessly with federal, state and territory governments to deliver collective, culturally appropriate and localised solutions.”
The Close the Gap report, titled Leadership and Legacy Through Crises: keeping our Mob safe, calls on the government to deliver on the many solutions for improving Indigenous health outcomes.
The report puts forward 15 recommendations for large scale systemic reform that are necessary to avoid further preventable deaths and protect Indigenous health, wellbeing, culture and Country. It highlights the opportunity of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and the urgent need for its full implementation, including a constitutional voice, treaty and truth-telling processes.
According to the report, the ongoing struggle for equality and cultural recognition exacerbates mental health challenges, and contributes to chronic disease which is the biggest killer of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Raising the criminal age of responsibility from 10 to 14, a fully funded national strategy to effectively respond to systemic racism, and climate action, including mitigation, prevention, and adaptation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, are some of the key recommendations.
The report notes that strengths-based, community driven responses to crises is integral to improving health outcomes, and that crisis response planning is an “inherent capability” of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, who are more likely to face health challenges in crisis situations like pandemics and natural disasters.
“At the onset of COVID Australian governments finally put their trust in us — those with on the ground local insights and expertise to keep our people healthy,” June Oscar said.
“As we have all said, time and again, we know what is best for our own health and wellbeing, and that of our families and wider communities. When control is in our hands, when we can exercise autonomy, we succeed.”