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The Voice: it’s an opportunity for all, say these health leaders

Many benefits for the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and all Australians could flow from a Yes outcome for the referendum.

That’s according to Dr Jill Gallagher AO, Chief Executive Officer of the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, Dr Sandro Demaio, Chief Executive of VicHealth, and Associate Professor Ines Rio, a GP at North Richmond Community Health and Chair, North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network.


Jill Gallagher, Sandro Demaio and Ines Rio write:

One of us was born small and underweight, with a parent who couldn’t get a job because she was black. One of us has had brothers and sisters growing up with trauma after being taken from their family. One of us has felt the loss of many friends giving up on life. One of us is expected to die eight years earlier than the other two authors.

The other two of us writing this article have not had these experiences. As non-Indigenous Australians, we have not personally carried the effects of colonisation, in our families and lives.

However, what the three of us share is that we’ve all been involved in healthcare for decades and have seen progress in the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities during that time.

But there is no denying that more needs to be done. We simply cannot accept the status quo.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people haven’t been listened to nationally and as a result, our approaches of the past haven’t made enough impact on the inequality in health experienced.

In Victoria, we have 26 Aboriginal health services, each one controlled by their local Aboriginal community. They provide a range of specialised medical, dental, family and aged care services, as well as providing housing assistance and supporting children through kinship care. They also provide a range of services in tune with Aboriginal conceptions of health and wellbeing; new mothers learn from women Elders and youngsters go on camps to absorb cultural teaching and history or traditional country.

Aboriginal people established these organisations, manage the clinics and run the services.

They’ve transformed the lives of many and their families.

On a daily basis, we see better outcomes achieved when we involve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in making decisions about their health. In our regions, we know the benefits of involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people when designing new health services.

Across Victoria, we have long understood how health policy is improved when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are around the table working with government.

Imagine if this was at a national level and not just focused on health services.

That is why more than 50 leading health organisations in Victoria have announced their support for the Voice (Croakey’s list shows more than 220 health organisations are supportive nationally), and 80 percent of 1,600 health workers surveyed believe it will improve health outcomes. They know what a practical difference being heard makes on health and wellbeing.

Dr Jill Gallagher and Dr Sandro Demaio. Photo supplied by VACCHO.

Great opportunities

Treating people and curing them of illness helps, but only in the way of putting a plaster over a wound. We need to be thinking how to stop wounds arising in the first place, which is why the Voice can have a great impact on the wellbeing of Aboriginal communities.

A person’s health and wellbeing is not just a matter of how much exercise they do. The person needs a job and enough money to buy fresh food and pay for heating. The person needs a place to live that isn’t a landlord’s unrepaired hovel. The person needs access to affordable GPs and dentists, which is hard to come by.

The Voice would advise on policies regarding children and families, education and housing, and jobs and transport. The Voice can connect the communities we serve with the national government that makes decisions.

Beyond the individual or even community level, there is something even greater that the Voice can achieve.

The Voice is an opportunity to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the First Peoples of Australia. The Voice is an opportunity to respect the role that they have had in living on and caring for this country. The Voice is an opportunity to bring forth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture to become a visible part of Australia.

The health and wellbeing benefits of being recognised, respected and valued will be felt by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people throughout Australia.

We agree with No campaigner Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price that people should have control of their own future, which is what the Voice will empower Aboriginal people to do. Hope can be a powerful medicine.

The Voice can also do something for all of Australia. The three of us, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people together, have often talked about how the Voice is a chance for Australia to gain 60,000 years of wisdom that will enhance our understanding of health and wellbeing.

Health professionals are always striving to find new cures and treatments and also greater knowledge of what keeps the mind and body healthy. We improve not just by observing, but also by listening.

The Voice is an opportunity for us to listen and advance how we care for all people in Australia.

Associate Professor Ines Rio. Photo supplied by VACCHO

• Dr Jill Gallagher AO (HonLLD), Chief Executive Officer, Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation

• Dr Sandro Demaio, Chief Executive, VicHealth

• Associate Professor Ines Rio, General Practitioner, North Richmond Community Health and Chair, North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network


See Croakey’s portal on the Voice, compiling articles, resources and statements

 

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