Today is an important day, National Close the Gap Day. This year, more than ever, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic it is so important to highlight and take action towards closing the gap that exists between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The pandemic has worsened the educational and health gap for many Indigenous peoples and communities. Today is an opportunity to send our governments a clear message that Australians value health equality as a fundamental right for all. The aim of this day is to share information and most importantly to take meaningful action in support of achieving health and education equality for First Nation peoples (ANTAR, 2021).
National Close the Gap Day official poster 2021. Courtesy of ANTaR, 2021.
Closing the Gap is a campaign designed to close the gap in health, life expectancy and educational outcomes between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians within a generation. It is a campaign rolled out in collaboration with all Australian governments, as well as many organisations and businesses through the National Agreement on Closing the Gap. Closing the Gap acknowledges the ongoing strength and resilience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in sustaining the world’s oldest living cultures. The campaign is underpinned by the belief that Indigenous people need to have genuine say in the design and delivery of policies (Closing the Gap, 2021).
There are huge gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Australia. These gaps include shorter life expectancy, higher rates of infant mortality, poorer health and lower level of education and employment. The life expectancy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people is approximately 10 years lower than for the rest of the Australian population. Mental helath is also a huge issue, with one in three deaths among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 to 35 being due to suicide - twice the rate of other Australians (Reconciliation Australia, 2021). Since 2008, the Close the Gap strategy has made some beneficial improvements to Indigenous health. However, the Australian Human Rights Commission states that we are very much behind on many of the targets, particularly due to COVID-19 (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2021).
Indigenous health campaign. Courtesy of the Australian Human Rights Commission, 2021.
COVID-19 is having a huge effect on the progress of the Close the Gap campaign. It has an effect on not only health but also education. With the closures of schools, learning has become very reliant on access to the internet. Our community partner the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation have released today, in collaboration with World Vision, a report which highlights the issues associated with the ‘Digital Divide’ that exists in Australia. The ‘Digital Divide’ refers to the gap between those who can access and use modern information and communications technology such as the internet, computers and mobile phones. Affordability is a major factor in the divide, with approximately 36% of First Nations people relying on mobile data which is both expensive and often unreliable. There is also the factor that the National Broadband Network (NBN) hasn’t been rolled out in many First Nations households and Indigenous communities. With school closures throughout the pandemic, many Indigenous children have been completely missing out on their education due to lack of access to the internet (ALNF & World Vision, 2021).
Barabara Preston’s (independent researcher and policy analyst)p research paper, ‘Report to the Australian Education Union, 2020,’ states:
“COVID-19 merely exacerbated pre-existing disadvantage which requires urgent and ongoing attention to ensure that all students have access to the tools needed to engage positively throughout their schooling” – Barbara Preston, 2020
Connecting and learning through technology. Courtesy of Mirage News, 2021.
Last year 150,000 Australians participated in 1,596 events to celebrate National Close the Gap Day. This year, the campaign is aiming for 250,000 people to get involved and sign the pledge. The pledge to close the gap is a petition demanding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health equality within a generation. Today, all across Australia events are being held to advocate for closing the gap (ANTAR, 2021). Get involved and be sure to also show your support through social media by using the hashtag #ClosetheGap.
Below you can also show your support through signing the pledge or donating to this incredibly important campaign:
Sign the Pledge here.
Below is a video created by Oxfam for Close the Gap day 2021. The video tells First Nation peoples personal stories about their experience of the gap that exists between Australians and the associated discrimination: