The Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the NT (AMSANT) has this week released a report, Health and Homelands: Good Value for Money?, calling for an immediate moratorium of funding cutbacks to homelands and outstations.
The report’s author, health economist Professor Gavin Mooney, writes below that governments should start taking note of their own rhetoric about evidence-based policy:
“Something strange is happening in policy on Aboriginal affairs … I have been looking at the evidence on homelands (or outstations) from the perspective of the health benefits and the costs involved in homelands living.
The evidence is strong from various studies going back over the last decade or so that the health of people living on the homelands is better than in more centralised communities. As of now the evidence is not yet in on what the costs are but it looks like they are not large and might conceivably be negative – there may even be cost savings.
So why for example is the NT government seemingly hell bent on centralising services?* If state and federal governments are genuine about trying to close the gap, why pursue a policy which looks very much as if it will widen the gap?
Is this a case – yet again – of ‘governments know best’ when it comes to Aboriginal affairs?
In the interests of closing the gap and in the interests of restoring some faith in governments’ ability to make their policies evidence based, let’s have a year long moratorium in place on policy on the homelands.
During that time I suggest two sets of studies be funded and conducted. First let’s compare the costs and benefits of homelands versus more centralised living. Second let’s compare the health returns of investing in homelands with investing in other interventions proposed or implemented to ‘close the gap’.
My bet is that the former will show that homelands living is a good investment by government. I’d also bet that the second study will indicate that this is a better buy than many other options for closing the gap.
But I don’t ask that anyone take on my bets – that is not the way government policy should be organised. I simply ask that governments get the evidence and then make policy rather than vice versa!
Please – let’s have that moratorium so we can get the evidence.”
• The report was funded by AMSANT, the Institute for Cultural Survival, and the Miwatj Health Aboriginal Corporation.