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Monday, 19 September 2011
Page: 10412

Racial Discrimination

Dear Mr Murphy

Thank you for your letter of 23 May 2011 regarding a petition on the development of a National Action Plan to Close the Gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. I apologise for the lengthy delay in responding.

The petition calls for the Australian Government to commit to the bipartisan development of a long-term National Action Plan to Close the Gap in disadvantage between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. I acknowledge that the petition contains 38 signatories who are concerned about the continuing gap in life opportunities experienced by Indigenous Australians.

I also acknowledge the 2010 Report of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the comments contained therein. I would like to assure you that the Australian Government is strongly committed to closing the gap in Indigenous disadvantage and improving the life chances of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The Government is currently working to turn around decades of under-investment and has marshalled unparalleled resources and agreements across governments to work towards closing the gap.

In 2007-08, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed to six ambitious targets for closing the gap in Indigenous disadvantage through the National Indigenous Reform Agreement. These targets focus on making improvements in life expectancy, child mortality, access to early childhood education, educational attainment and employment outcomes.

The Government is investing $5.75 billion over the next three years to reduce Indigenous disadvantage. Significant reforms have been forged through National Partnership Agreements with state and territory governments to improve outcomes in Remote Housing, Early Childhood, Health, Education and Economic Participation.

Under these agreements, governments have been working in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians in a sustained effort to close the gap.

In the 2010-11 financial year, 490 new houses and 2,288 refurbishments were completed in remote Indigenous communities across Australia. This exceeded the ambitious target of 463 houses and 2,012 rebuilds. The Australian Government has also invested $100.6 million in the Tackling Smoking initiative to reduce Indigenous smoking rates.

In addition, achievements under mainstream initiatives include assisting 47,000 Indigenous Australians through the Family Support Program to provide help and support for families dealing with relationship problems and separation issues, and placing 58,950 Indigenous jobseekers in jobs.

Improving the health and wellbeing of Indigenous people is a high priority for the Government, but it cannot be achieved in isolation.

As a signatory of the Close the Gap Statement of Intent, I am aware of the importance of this document and its commitments. The Close the Gap Statement of Intent is consistent with the work that the Government is carrying out across Australia to improve the life chances of Indigenous Australians and represents a united effort of the Australian people to achieve important reforms.

I am aware that the petition calls for the Government to develop a long-term National Action Plan to Close the Gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The Close the Gap Statement of Intent refers to this Action Plan as one which should aim to address the existing inequities in health services in order to achieve quality of health status and life expectancy between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians by 2030. Currently, the Government is implementing Indigenous health plans which share the very same goals.

The National Strategic Framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health 2003-2013 (the Framework) was developed using the 1989 National Aboriginal Health Strategy as a foundational document. The Framework seeks to address contemporary approaches to primary health care and population health within the current policy environment and planning structures.

The Framework clearly articulated that health gains cannot be made in isolation. Therefore, it adopted a multi-sectoral approach to improve housing, education and employment to support and sustain improvements in health. The Framework commits governments to monitoring and implementation within their own jurisdictions, working together at the national level and working across government on joint initiatives between health departments and other portfolios.

COAG agreed to the $1.6 billion National Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap in Indigenous Health Outcomes in 2008 (the NPA) to contribute to the first of the Closing the Gap targets — to close the gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians within a generation.

The Government is providing $805.5 million over four years for an Indigenous Chronic Disease Package as its contribution to the NPA. This Package will reduce chronic disease risk factors, encourage earlier detection and better management of chronic disease in primary health care services, improve follow-up care and increase the capacity of the primary care workforce to deliver effective health care to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across Australia.

These overarching Indigenous health plans are due to expire in 2013. The Government is currently considering options for arrangements beyond 2013. All governments will continue work in this area through their commitment to the National Indigenous Reform Agreement. Closing the gap will take time and demands perseverance from all of us. The Government is committed to this national priority which is essential if we are to build a future where each and every Australian is valued and included. I appreciate efforts made by individuals and health professionals towards reducing Indigenous disadvantage.

Thank you again for providing me with the opportunity to comment on this petition.

from the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Ms Macklin