Experts say ‘Closing the Gap’ measures have failed to address racism in Australia's healthcare system.

If all lives matter equally, Australia must examine and address racial violence within the Australian health system, according to an article in the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA).

“The statistical story of Indigenous health and death, despite how stark, fails to do justice to the violence of racialised health inequities that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples continue to experience,” according to UQ’s Associate Professor Chelsea Bond.

“Tragically, despite the parlous state of Indigenous health, we have not been met here with the kind of urgency that the global Black Lives Matter movement has spurred elsewhere.”

Dr Bond says Australia’s health system appears “indifferent”, and runs on “a ‘business as usual’ approach that we know from experience betokens failure”.

“What is needed is an Australian health system that has a steadfast commitment to black lives: not as in need of saving, but as deserving of care; one that matches the staunchness of grieving Black families marching the streets of our capital cities in the midst of a pandemic.”

Dr Bond and colleagues suggest a health justice framework to replace the “failed Indigenous health policy” of Closing the Gap.

Their model would include but not be limited to:

  • a foregrounding of Indigenous sovereignty rendering visible the strength, capability and humanity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples, services and communities in all processes of health policy formation and implementation, not as partners but as architects

  • state and federal government commitment to the recommendations of the coronial inquiries into the deaths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have died of preventable or avoidable conditions in the health system, and the establishment of an Indigenous taskforce to oversee implementation

  • an explicit financial commitment from the National Health and Medical Research Council and the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (via the Indigenous Medical Research Future Fund) and the Australian Research Council for research that attends to the nature and function of race in producing the conditions that allow racialised health inequalities to persist, from birth to death, including the embodied consequences of racism

  • the establishment of awareness-raising campaigns that make clear the various ways in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples may seek justice when experiencing discrimination within the health system, and commeasurable resourcing of legal services to support Indigenous peoples to take action

  • introduction of publication guidelines for health and medical journals requiring research relating to racialised health disparities to foreground institutional racism in its analysis, rather than socio-economic disadvantage and other social and cultural factors

  • development of an interdisciplinary Indigenous health workforce agenda that centres the care of Indigenous people beyond capacity building to include attending to racial violence within workplaces across the Australian health system

“We offer these strategies not as a solution, but as some small steps towards a radical reimagining of the Black body within the Australian health system, one which demonstrates a more genuine commitment to the cries of ‘Black Lives Matter’ from Blackfullas in this place right now,” Dr Bond and colleagues concluded.