We Need To Close The Gap

The good news is that life expectancy for all Australians is increasing. Between 2005 and 2012, the life expectancy for Australian men increased by 1.6 years. The bad news is that these improvements driven by better diet, reductions in smoking and improved health are not being equally shared.

Life expectancy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders has increased by up to 18 months—something that we all rejoice in—but there is still an unacceptable gap—a stubborn gap of 10 years between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have higher rates of cancer, diabetes and preventable diseases and, as the Closing the Gap report released today shows, suffer preventable deaths related to chronic diseases at rates that could be halved within three years through the systematic application of existing techniques and therapies. As the report shows, addressing these challenges requires funding, a policy commitment from government and community control and leadership.

I am proud of the work that is being done by community leaders in my electorate of Throsby. Recently, I joined a group of about 30 cyclists who were riding from Albury to Albion Park in my electorate to raise awareness of health in Aboriginal communities along the way. The group were led by Dale Wright, Shane Venables, Ben Russell and Layne Brown.

Leaving Albury on 16 November, the cyclists were there to deliver a message and to show a better example. This annual ride began in 2012. Participants have since at least doubled the number involved, including men and women, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. The rides have called in at schools, community events and Aboriginal medical services along the way, riding with locals for parts of the journey to help spread the message. Importantly, riders have had a great opportunity to share their stories between Shellharbour and Albury. Today, Australia is reminded that Closing the Gap is a critical and urgent concern. We must not delay. We must not lose our focus and we must act.

To be frank, today's Closing the Gap report has highlighted some disappointing progress. The government's decision to cut $130 million from Indigenous health programs will not help in Closing the Gap. Cuts to tackling Indigenous smoking programs will not help in Closing the Gap. The policy paralysis on ATSI health programs will not help in Closing the Gap. Of course, the idea that increasing the cost of accessing your GP through the GP tax is going to improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians is simply farcical.