Indigenous organisations say their success with Covid-19 shows strong partnerships with governments make a big difference.
The pandemic should not be used by governments as a reason to delay the new agreement on closing the gap targets, a coalition of more than 50 Aboriginal peak organisations has warned ahead of the next scheduled meeting in June.
The Coalition of Peaks said the “quick and decisive” efforts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health organisations have kept Covid-19 from devastating communities so far and shows that strong partnerships with governments make a big difference to Aboriginal health and safety.
But the virus has exposed the inequality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people on many fronts, the lead convenor of the Coalition of Peaks, Pat Turner, said.
“Covid-19 is a pathogen, but it is also a diagnostic test being run on Australia – and the results are not good,” Turner said.
While Australians over 65 are considered at high risk of suffering the worst effects of Covid-19, in Aboriginal communities, where there is a higher chronic disease burden, anyone over 50 is considered vulnerable.
“Covid-19 doesn’t discriminate so the gap in potential outcomes is a result of the structural inequity that exists in Australia,” Turner said.
“It is not a natural occurrence but the direct result of years of neglect, disinvestment and failed policies, developed without our input.”
In March last year, Australian governments signed a historic partnership agreement with the Coalition of Peaks on closing the gap. They have since developed four reform priorities that are yet to be formally adopted.
“This pandemic has shown just how important those reforms are,” Turner said.
The reforms are to have greater Aboriginal involvement in decision making and service delivery at a national, regional and local level. There is also a commitment to making sure government agencies and institutions undertake systemic and structural transformation, and strengthening community-controlled organisations to deliver the services Aboriginal people need.
Scott Morrison has already committed $1.5m for the fourth priority – a data project to support evidence-based policy and decision making by Indigenous communities.
“Our organisations and communities are best placed to respond to this crisis and yet are the same organisations and communities that have borne the brunt of repeated funding cuts and a rollercoaster of policy and administration changes,” she said.
Turner also said the absence of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander national body or voice to parliament, bringing its collective expertise to respond to Covid-19, was “stark” in its absence.
“People have labelled Covid-19 as some sort of great equaliser but, in reality, its impact is not shared equally,” she said.
“The truth is that there can be no equality until we work together to dismantle structural inequity. The collective will is the only real equaliser.”