It’s hard enough to get a handful of health groups to agree on anything but there is one cause important enough to unite over a hundred peak medical and health groups – the need to work together to improve the health of Indigenous Australians.  

Today an important campaign is being launched at Parliament House in Canberra which highlights the link between health and wellbeing and constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 

The RECOGNISE HEALTH initiative is a project of the Lowitja Institute in conjunction with RECOGNISE, the people’s movement to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Australian Constitution and to remove discrimination from it.

More than 100 of the nation’s leading health bodies have signed a statement urging Australians to join them and support constitutional recognition, saying it will help to improve health and wellbeing and make greater inroads on health disadvantage and inequality.

These include the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association, NACCHO, the Australian Medical Association, CATSINaM, the College of Nursing, Catholic Health Australia and the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association.

Lowitja Institute CEO Romlie Mokak said: “Recognition, participation and equity have profound positive consequences for wellbeing. There is significant evidence from health research to indicate that being connected to the wider community, having a strong identity and feeling socially supported, all have significant positive impacts on health.”

Many of the partner organisations in the RECOGNISE HEALTH initiative are at the forefront of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander­led work to close the significant gulf between the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non­Indigenous Australians. Constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will be another step towards equity.

The central premise of RECOGNISE HEALTH, that constitutional recognition is linked to health and wellbeing, is supported by the Lowitja Institute’s 2011 research paper Legally Invisible — How Australian Laws Impede Stewardship and Governance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health.

The RECOGNISE HEALTH initiative will highlight the link between health and recognition as the referendum draws closer and will engage with key community health organisations to promote the RECOGNISE campaign.

If any Government representatives attend the launch today, it might be a good opportunity to quiz them about the future of important Indigenous health programs that do not have secure funding.

While the announcement by the Federal Government of three-year funding agreements for Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations has been welcomed by National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO), uncertainty remains over the future of programs being run under the Closing the Gap Indigenous Chronic Disease Package, which is set to cease at the end of March 2015.

NACCHO Chairperson Matthew Cooke said the new agreements meant that crucial primary health care services would be sustained and that Aboriginal health services could now provide job security to their doctors, nurses and health workers who have the important role of improving the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal Australians.

However, he also urged the Government to secure the future of the outstanding funding arrangement and added that Aboriginal health program funds currently within Medicare Locals, which are soon to be abolished, should now be transitioned to the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Sector under the new funding agreements.

“Aboriginal people respond best to primary health care provided by Aboriginal people. Any opportunity to expand the service delivery of Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations will be rewarded by better health outcomes for Aboriginal people,” he said.


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