Responding to the 2021 Close the Gap report, Leadership and Legacy Through Crises: Keeping our Mob Safe, released today – on National Close the Gap Day – Oxfam Australia’s First Peoples Program National Manager, Ngarra Murray, said:
“Across Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders and communities achieved an incredible feat last year, by standing strong, keeping COVID-19 at bay, and ensuring the safety of some of our most at-risk citizens.
“COVID-19 presented a particularly severe threat to First Peoples communities due to the ongoing social and health impacts of colonisation and racist government policies, such as over-crowded housing and other health issues.
“Incredibly, the number of COVID-19 cases among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is now six times lower than the rest of Australia, and not a single person in the community has died from the virus.
“The fast action, leadership and grassroots-level coordination of First Peoples-led health services ensured remote communities, once threatened with closure by governments, became some of the safest places in Australia.”
The report also documents the leadership and innovation of Aboriginal communities in dealing with the bushfire and mental health crises.
For example, despite a lack of specific funding, the Yuin people on the NSW South Coast turned their health services into relief centres, while in Victoria, the VACCHO peak body conducted the first Aboriginal-led evaluation of reforms to mental health services.
“This report – led by the Lowitja Institute and supported by Oxfam – highlights the incredible resilience and ingenuity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in innovating and leading the implementation of solutions for their own communities,” Ms Murray said.
“We already have the solutions to ‘close the gap’ within our grasp – we just need governments to empower our communities to keep leading the way in facing the challenges of our times, so they can continue to deliver outstanding results.”