In 2005, Professor Tom Calma, the then Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, released the
. This important report called for the governments of Australia to commit to achieving equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the areas of health and life expectancy within 25 years.
Close the Gap is a social justice campaign that aims to achieve health equality (measured as life expectancy equality) for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by 2030 . The campaign began as the National Indigenous Health Equality Campaign, which was formed in March 2006 by these organisations:
A steering committee was established to help guide the development of the campaign . A coalition of more than 40 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous health organisations and human rights organisations became involved in the campaign.
The Close the Gap campaign is the ‘public face’ of the National Indigenous Health Equality Campaign . This public awareness campaign was formally launched in Sydney in April 2007 and is organised by the NACCHO, ANTaR and Oxfam Australia. It united the voices of more than 40 organisations urging the state, territory and federal governments to commit to closing the health and life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and other Australians within a generation.
On 20 December 2007, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), which includes the leaders of federal, state and territory, and local governments, committed to ‘closing the gap’ in life expectancy between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous Australians. Importantly, COAG agreed to be accountable for reaching this goal within a specific timeframe. The strategy initiated at this time by COAG has become known as Closing the Gap.
The National Indigenous Health Equality Summit was held in Canberra on 18-20 March 2008. At this Summit, the Close the Gap Indigenous health equality targets were presented to delegates. The
 was signed on 20 March 2008. The signatories to the Statement of intent were:
The Statement of intent stipulated that the Australian governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples would ‘work together to achieve equality in health status and life expectancy between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians by the year 2030’ .
Various state and territory governments have signed the Statement of intent since 2008:
Other state and territory governments have made various commitments to improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced the establishment of the National Indigenous Health Equality Council (NIHEC) at the 2008 National Indigenous Health Equality Summit. NIHEC provides national leadership to help address the gap in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health status by bringing together representatives from Australian governments and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and mainstream health sectors. The NIHEC membership was formally announced by the Minister for Health, the Hon Nicola Roxon MP, on 10 July 2008.
This was the first time that such a high level of commitment had been made by the Australian, state and territory governments and others, raising the possibility of substantial improvement in the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
In November 2008, COAG agreed to the
(NIRA) . This agreement provides a comprehensive overview of the steps being taken to achieve the Closing the Gap targets, including the relevant objectives, outcomes, outputs, performance measures, and benchmarks in the various National Partnership Agreements.
The targets are :
The targets set by COAG to ‘close the gap’ are ambitious and challenging to measure. In order for these targets to be properly monitored and put into action, COAG identified a number of building blocks that need to be addressed, all of which are spelled out in the NIRA . The building blocks are interconnected and address several targets; they adopt a holistic view of health, addressing many of the underlying social determinants that influence and affect health. The building blocks are:
The National Partnership Agreements (NPAs) are agreements between the Commonwealth of Australia and the states and territories. They ensure that all levels of government are committed to the same framework of outcomes, measure of progress, and policy directions. NPAs build on current initiatives, address shortfalls, and may provide additional funding. Six agreements were originally included in the Closing the Gap policy:
Another NPA was agreed between the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory Government in July 2009:
COAG committed $4.6 billion towards Closing the Gap in November 2008; the funds were directed to projects in health, housing, early childhood, economic participation, and remote service delivery .
The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples is the national representative voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The Congress was developed through consultation and submissions to a steering committee, assisted by the Australian Human Rights Commission. The first board of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples was appointed in April 2010.
With respect to Closing the Gap, the Congress contributes by:
In 2011, the National Health Leadership Forum (NHLF) was established . The NHLF is made up of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak health organisations and the Close the Gap Steering Committee. It is the national representative body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations that provides advice to, and works with, the Australian Government to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health outcomes.
In March 2012, the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples (the national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representative organisation) suggested a new target relating to justice be added to existing Closing the Gap targets which are monitored by Australian governments . This target aimed to tackle the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the criminal justice system.
In June 2013, the Australian Government released the
(NATSIHP) . NATSIHP provides a long-term, evidence-based policy framework. It aims to deliver policies to increase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life expectancy by 2031. The Australian Government worked in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community groups, and peak bodies to produce the plan.
In April 2013, the Australian Government announced $777 million to fund its share of a renewed
for a further three years to 30 June 2016 . The state and territory governments were asked to continue their investment to renew the NPA.
In July 2013, the Australian Government released the
. The implementation plan focused on the Government’s role in ensuring the health system is flexible to respond to needs identified by the community, is able to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to make healthy choices, provides culturally safe access to quality early intervention and treatment services and integrated clinical services, and is free of racism.
In June 2016, a group of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak organisations released
 calling on the Federal Government to retain and establish national representation to facilitate meaningful engagement, and improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander outcomes in health and justice.
Specifically, the Redfern Statement urges the government to:
The Federal Government has taken some initial steps to engage with Redfern Statement signatories with an aim to improve the relationship and discuss the priorities outlined in the Statement . COAG’s 9 December 2016 Communique stated:
Leaders reaffirmed that improving the lives of Indigenous Australians is a priority of COAG’s strategic forward agenda and agreed that the ‘Closing the Gap’ framework has played a significant role in driving unprecedented national effort to improve Indigenous outcomes. With the current framework approaching its 10 year anniversary and some targets due to expire in 2018, Leaders have committed to work together and with Indigenous leaders, organisations and communities to refresh this agenda with renewed emphasis on collaborative effort, evaluation and building on what works in each jurisdiction. 
While there have been improvements to the health, employment and education status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the almost ten years since the launch of Closing the Gap, only one of the seven Closing the Gap targets is on track to be met . To address this lack of progress on the targets, the Government declared in early 2018 that it would refresh the strategy. The Government has acknowledged it needs to work differently with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in order to make progress adequate to address the Closing the Gap targets. This includes genuine partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders, organisations and communities, to identify the priorities that will inform better programs and services to close the gap.
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