Chief Executive Blog

A treaty is vital for good health

24th July 2018

This years NAIDOC week theme ‘Because of her, we can’ celebrates the active and essential roles Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women play in community.

cohealth recognises and appreciates the enormous contribution Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have made to our organisation, as co-workers, as consultants, as academic partners and as service users. In every case these women have brought to the organisation insight and integrity. Assisting us to ensure our organisation understands sovereignty, recognises the impact of colonisation and that women are at the forefront of developing culturally safe responses.

In return we have sought to embed the recognition of custodianship and connection to land within our service models. This actively supports the cultural determinants of health and the need for health care that is situated within and provided by community.

Today this means that cohealth recognises how important it is that a treaty is negotiated between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and our governments. In an historic move, the Victorian Parliament has recently passed the Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Bill 2018.  This will see Victoria become the first state to enter into formal treaty negotiations with Aboriginal Victorians.

The tireless work and perseverance of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community made this possible.

A treaty has undeniable moral and symbolic importance, but as an important part of self determination will also have significant health benefits.

Research on the social determinants of health is incontrovertible, autonomy and self-determination are fundamental to good health.  That when people lack autonomy – when people are not able to be in control of their own lives, rather are being controlled or dominated by others or by their social, economic, or political circumstances – their mental and physical health tends to deteriorate, and for those who feel the least autonomous, the outcomes are generally the worst.

This can be changed, with constitutional recognition and treaty negotiations providing a sound – and critical – foundation for addressing the social and economic determinants of health and wellbeing.

Australia is the only Commonwealth country not to have a treaty with its Indigenous people. I was profoundly disappointed at the rejection of the Uluru Statement from the Heart by the Prime Minister, and the extraordinary lack of respect shown to First Nations peoples in this dismissal.

The blatant misrepresentation of the Uluru Statement to justify this rejection was particularly alarming, and reflective of a national government bereft of leadership.   Despite this, we know that Australian people think differently, with polling showing that 61% already support the concept of a voice to parliament, and 58% already supporting ‘formal agreements between Australian governments and Indigenous peoples to recognise their rights’. This support will increase if there is political leadership and cross party support.

As with the Prime Minister’s rejection of the Uluru Statement, concerns about a treaty are too often based on incorrect information, and fed by scare campaigns about the supposed impacts.  Educating ourselves about the need for treaties and constitutional recognition, and the real advances that will flow from them, is a responsibility for all non-indigenous Australians.

I urge you to read the Uluru Statement from the Heart, follow the Victorian treaty process and support progress toward self-determination.

Consistent with our mission to Improve health and wellbeing for all and tackle inequality, in partnership with people and the communities they live in, we at cohealth consider it our responsibility to be part of the community movement that both hears the Uluru voice from the heart and works with others to see this change happen.

Artwork detail: ‘Wellness Dreaming’ (2014) Ngardarb Francine Riches


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