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Indigenous leader scores PM's progress report -

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Indigenous leader scores PM's progress report

Eleanor Hall reported this story on Thursday, February 11, 2010 12:34:00

ELEANOR HALL: Also in the parliamentary chamber listening to the Prime Minister was the chair of
the Close the Gap steering committee Tom Calma.

Mr Calma last month stepped down as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice
commissioner at the Human Rights Commission. But it was his report in 2005 that highlighted the
gaps in Indigenous health and galvanised government action.

His committee has just released its own shadow report on the Federal Government's progress to close
the gap and he joins us now in our Parliament House studio.

Tom Calma, thanks for being there.

First your broad reaction to the Prime Minister's address. Are you satisfied with the progress
being made?

TOM CALMA: Look I think there's you know both reason for satisfaction but also reason for concern
as to the way we move forward.

In our shadow report, and remember this is a report that's been developed by all the major
Indigenous and non-indigenous peak bodies and human rights bodies who work in a voluntary capacity
to try and inform government of the directions to go.

What we've highlighted very clearly is that there is a lack of strategic planning from what we can
see. And so we've called for a more comprehensive long term plan of action so that all parties and
the community know exactly which, what direction we're taking and how people can get involved.

ELEANOR HALL: That sounds somewhat surprising that two years in you're saying there is not a
strategic plan.

TOM CALMA: Well there's not one that's publicly available that we're aware of. The Government may
have one.

But what we've highlighted are a whole range of issues. We've specifically started off looking at

But once you look at the social determinants of health that takes in the other issues like
employment, housing and education and so forth, all those things that contribute to good health.

So we have to look at it more comprehensively and that's what we're calling on the Government to
work with us in partnership to be able to do that.

ELEANOR HALL: What specifically would you like to see in a strategic plan?

TOM CALMA: Well it clearly needs to state - and what the Government is working off is the
generational change which you know the industry, the major part of the industry, health industry
believes it's going to take at least a generation. And some areas will be addressed quicker than

So we need to look at how it goes. We've, as a steering committee and the industry, developed up
some targets that take us to the year 2030 with a whole lot of intermediary targets up to 2018 as
our major milestone, the first major one.

But that needs to be addressed in total rather than just at the moment we're seeing small programs
being rolled out.

Now you know they are all good and at least now we've got a dialogue where government is talking to
more, I guess in a more strategic way with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community but
there's still a long way to go in relation to partnership.

Although we're working towards that we still need to make sure that we get it put truly in place.

ELEANOR HALL: Well the Prime Minister made it clear that this is generational change that we're
talking about. It's a slow path. But he says that there are the beginnings of change. Do you agree
with him?

TOM CALMA: Oh yeah look we've seen that. And you know the beginning of change is recognition and
engagement and we're starting to see that. And we're seeing much more of a situation where
government is acknowledging that they can't do it alone. They shouldn't be doing it alone. They can
only do it in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people and the peak bodies that
are working in that area. So that first lot of recognition is important.

They've also, and this is the federal and all the state and territory governments with the COAG
(Council of Australian Governments) system have recognised that you can't just maintain the status
quo of Indigenous affairs, that there needs to be fairly significant capital inputs to be able to
address the deficiencies of the past. And you know the rhetoric of how much we've spent in the past
doesn't cut it if it's just an imposition. And so we need to look at that more closely.

ELEANOR HALL: The Government has committed $2.5 billion to this. I mean there's been a lot of money
put into these sorts of problems over the years. Is it really a shortage of funds that's the

TOM CALMA: No I think it's a couple of things. Funding is very important. If we're going to say for
example the Aboriginal community control health services which is recognised worldwide as the most
successful way to be able to address the health issue, you know the funding has been what we call
status quo. It's actually diminished over the years.

And so we have to really build the capacity. We need to get people on the same platform so that
we're all moving in the same direction and that's what is emerging but there's still a long way to

And that's why we call on a comprehensive plan because this is not just a response that has to
happen from the Health Department. We need to look at those issues like housing, employment,
education, you know making sure that law and justice issues are being addressed as well. So they're
the social determinants.

And we need to have a targeted approach and at the moment it just appears to be a bit ad hoc from
our perspective. And whilst we're you know supportive of the initiatives as they've come out we
believe that if we are going to make a difference we need to get a lot more focused, a lot more
disciplined to build on the evidence.

But you know we're moving in the right direction. We've now got Warren Snowdon as the Minister
dedicated to looking at III health which is you know, and he's doing a great job of starting that
off and that's been a big move. Although we've had the support of Nicola Roxon in the past, you
know, but having a dedicated minister is good for the industry.

ELEANOR HALL: Tom Calma thanks very much for joining us.

TOM CALMA: Thank you.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Tom Calma the former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice
commissioner at the Human Rights Commission and the chair of the Closing the Gap steering