Posted on 21 March 2012 by Bronwen Regan
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can expect to live substantially shorter lives than other Australians – up to 20 years less in some cases. Babies born to Aboriginal mothers die at more than twice the rate of other Australian babies, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience higher rates of preventable illness such as heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes.
In response to this dire situation, Australia’s peak Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous health bodies, health professional bodies and human rights organisations came together in March 2006 to initiate the “Close the Gap” Campaign. The Campaign’s goal is to raise the health and life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples within a generation: to close the gap by 2030. It aims to do this through education, by raising awareness and by mobilising the public to advocate for policy change.
Last Wednesday, March 14th, in a speech marking the beginning of Senior’s Week, I made the following comments regarding the gap in life expectancy for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians:
“It is a well-known yet shameful fact that life expectancy is not uniform across populations within Australia. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience a much shorter life expectancy than non-Indigenous Australians. It is recognised that a significant gap exists between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians – that gap is consistently identified as being between 10 and 17 years. The inexcusable reality is that our Indigenous Australians are missing out on a whole decade of life experiences—a decade of enjoying life, watching grandchildren and great-grandchildren grow up and passing on knowledge and wisdom to the rest of the community”
I commend the initiatives that have been implemented under the Close the Gap campaign and I encourage everyone to use tomorrow, Thursday 22nd March which is national Close the Gap day, to raise awareness of the need for genuine commitment from all levels of government to Aboriginal Australians.
One step the State Government should take is to lower the eligibility age for a Seniors Card for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to 45 years. With a lowering of the age for this disadvantaged group, they would become entitled to important concessions and benefits that would support an enhanced quality of life.