The Close the Gap Campaign today called on the government to rethink the proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA) and consider the impact they could have on closing the health equality gap. The Campaign believes that the RDA provides a vital protection against racism and vilification in the community.
Campaign Co-Chair Kirstie Parker said the proposed changes that would permit offensive, insulting and humiliating behaviour based on race and provide broad exemptions to protections against racial vilification and intimidation could give the green light to bigots and encourage racism.
“This would be a real set-back in the national effort to close the gap,” Ms Parker said.
She said the Campaign was all too aware of the negative health impacts that racism has on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“There’s a strong association between racism and distress, depression and anxiety.
“Racism is also linked to emotional and behavioural difficulties and suicidal thoughts. Research is telling us that mental health is the second leading driver of the health gap, contributing 15% of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander burden of disease,” she said.
She said that the Attorney-General’s exposure draft provided an important opportunity for government to listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other victims of racism, look at the impacts, and reconsider these changes.
The Campaign will make a submission to the exposure draft in coming weeks. On initial reading it is particularly concerned that the definition of racial intimidation is narrowly confined to fear of physical harm. Racial intimidation causing psychological or economic harm should also be prohibited. The proposed definition neglects the evidence that experiences of racism and racial discrimination have strong negative mental health impacts on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Campaign Co-Chair Mick Gooda said that the evidence demonstrates racism is consistently associated with health risk behaviours such as smoking and alcohol and substance abuse.
“The increases in racism that could flow from the proposed changes could counteract the small improvements in life expectancy and good progress towards reducing smoking rates,” Mr Gooda said.
“We should be doing all we can to ensure that the factors contributing to the ill health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are addressed, and that includes ensuring proper protections against racism and an accessible recourse process for victims of racism,” he said.
“There’s bipartisan commitment to closing the disgraceful health equality gap that sees babies born to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers 2-3 times more likely to die before the age of four, and heart disease rates more than twice that of the wider population,” Mr Gooda said
The community wants strong and continued action on this national priority as we saw recently on National Close the Gap Day where 150,000 people participated in almost 1300 events around the country to show their support for closing the gap.
The Close the Gap Campaign is Australia’s biggest public movement for health equality. It is a coalition of Australia’s leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous health and human rights organisations.
Campaign members are:
• Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation
• Australian Indigenous Doctors' Association
• Australian Indigenous Psychologists' Association
• Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives
• Indigenous Allied Health Australia
• Indigenous Dentists' Association of Australia
• National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation
• National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers' Association
• National Association of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Physiotherapists
• National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples
• National Coordinator — Tackling Indigenous Smoking (Dr Tom Calma AO - Campaign founder and former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner)
• National Indigenous Drug and Alcohol Committee
• The Lowitja Institute
• Torres Strait Island Regional Authority
• Australian College of Nursing
• Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council
• Australian Human Rights Commission (Secretariat)
• Australian Medical Association
• Australian Medicare Local Alliance
• Australian Physiotherapy Association
• The Fred Hollows Foundation
• Heart Foundation Australia
• Menzies School of Health Research
• Oxfam Australia
• Palliative Care Australia
• PHILE Network
• Public Health Association of Australia
• The Pharmacy Guild of Australia
• Royal Australasian College of Physicians
• Royal Australian College of General Practitioners
• Professor Ian Ring (expert adviser)
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