untitled2Thursday marks Australia’s annual “Closing the Gap” day where citizens come together to acknowledge the huge gaps in health and education outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The Federal Government last month released its ninth “Closing the Gap” report card on Indigenous disadvantage which proved we are a long way from parity.


Indigenous people face a five-year wait for public housing in the big NT outback town of Katherine when one in four are officially listed as homeless.

Only one of seven targets, set out almost a decade ago to improve outcomes for Indigenous Australians, is on track to be met.

While targets to improve issues from unemployment to child mortality, have stalled, the number of Indigenous students finishing year 12 has improved.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull opened his address by celebrating “real successes being achieved at a local level across the country – by individuals, communities, organisations and governments.”

NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner said housing is paramount to closing the gap in the Northern Territory.

“Overcrowding in housing a huge problem. Children who live in overcrowded houses are far less likely to attend school in the morning or to eat a healthy meal.” Mr Gunner said.

“Lack of housing has lasting impacts on health and education outcomes that are key targets of closing the gap.”

Researchers estimate one in four Indigenous people in Katherine are homeless.

Wurli-Wurlingjang medical services director Dr Peter Fitzpatrick agreed that housing and equitable infrastructure were essential to ‘closing the gap’.

“The easy steps towards changing health related gaps have already been taken, the hard stuff has not been done yet,” Dr Fitzpatrick said.

“You can have the best primary health care service with perfect access, but if people go home to a house that is over crowded, you are still going to have a higher rate of morbidity and mortality.

“We could put more resources into Indigenous primary health care, which we would really appreciate, but ultimately a lot of these things will not equalise until the social determinants are equalized,” he said.

Dr Simon Quilty senior lecturer at Flinders University’s Katherine Hospital campus said there is a five year waiting list for public housing in Katherine.

“Many houses in the Katherine region have four generations under the one roof,” Dr Quilty said.

“The problem of homelessness for remote Aboriginal people is arguably one of the strongest drivers of poor social and health outcomes.”

Katherine MLA Sandra Nelson said the introduction of Temporary Beat Locations has improved conditions in Katherine.

“Anything that limits the consumption of alcohol is a positive, and the evidence shows that is happening in Katherine,” Ms Nelson said.

“The biggest health impact caused by alcohol is violence, and Katherine has seen a 12% drop in alcohol related violence over the past year.”

Dr Fitzpatrick said Wurli had also noticed a change in patient presentation since the policy was adopted.

“Wurli has noticed a decrease in attendances since about 2013, anecdotally we are seeing less short term alcohol related trauma through our clinic,” Dr Fitzpatrick said.

Last week Katherine Times interviewed women from Kybrook Farm, a remote community eight kilometres from Pine Creek.

When asked if she thought men and women were equal in her community, Kybrook woman Maria Lee said, “not really, because men have more rights than women, in reality”.

The Kybrook ladies spoke of the need for opportunities to be more active and for services to encourage women to be happy and instill a positive outlook for the future.

Closing the Gap: Numbers to Shame a Nation

The Northern Territory had the highest Indigenous child mortality rate and largest gap in the country.

From 2011 to 2015,  610 Indigenous children died and over half of these were in the Northern Territory.

Although far from equal, the gap has narrowed significantly, down 83 per cent since 1998.

Indigenous people die 10 years younger than non-Indigenous people

The goal to close the gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia by 2031 is not on track.

The average Indigenous man lives to 69.1 years, compared to 79.7 years for a non-Indigenous man .

Life expectancy for Indigenous women is 73.7 years almost a decade younger than non Indigenous women who are expected to live to 83.1 years of age.

Since 1998, the mortality rate for Aboriginal people is 1.7 times that of the Australian population.

Indigenous suicide rate is twice that of the broader community

25.5 suicide deaths per 100,000 Indigenous people compared to 12.5 per 100,000 people for non-Indigenous Australians.

Suicide was the leading cause of death among five to 17-year-old Indigenous children in 2015 and among those aged 15-34 between 2011 and 2015.

“A lack of mental health support services in rural and regional areas compounded by a lack of culturally relevant early intervention programs contributes to higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide among members of our Indigenous community,” a beyondblue spokeswoman said.

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This piece by Lydia Lynch was published on ‘The Armidale Express’ March 16, 2017.


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