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Rudd pledges to close the health and mortality gaps
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March 21, 2008
PROGRAMS to tackle smoking and to train more indigenous health workers are the first down payments on reaching the Federal Government's target of ending the health and life expectancy gaps between indigenous and non-indigenous people.
At the Close The Gap summit in Parliament House in Canberra yesterday, the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, signed a statement of intent with health and indigenous groups, promising to bring equality to health standards by 2030.
Mr Rudd has pledged to end the 17-year life-expectancy gap within the next generation and halve the infant mortality gap within the decade.
The Olympians Cathy Freeman and Ian Thorpe attended the event. Freeman urged the Government to "stay focused" on its commitment.
Mr Rudd announced $14.5 million in funding to tackle the high rates of smoking in indigenous communities which contribute to chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
Another $19 million was announced to encourage more indigenous people to become health workers.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Tom Calma, hailed the statement of intent as a "monumental development".
"Benchmarks and targets for achieving these fundamental human rights for indigenous Australians are not only possible, but are now firm commitments. Let us hope that an indigenous baby born in 2030 has the same life expectation, the same access to quality health services and the same life outcomes as non-indigenous Australians," Mr Calma said.
But the Opposition said the Government had breached its claimed bipartisan approach to indigenous issues by leaving it until the last minute to consult it about the pledge to close the gap.
The Opposition Leader, Brendan Nelson, was invited to speak at yesterday's event, but Mr Rudd left the function as he started to speak.
A spokesman for Dr Nelson said that if the Opposition had been consulted it would have suggested the pledge to achieve health equity should have referred to the importance of addressing alcohol abuse, school attendance, policing, home ownership and employment outcomes.
"We want to see this initiative work yet some people would question whether this was truly reflecting the spirit of bipartisanship," the spokesman said.