2021's Close the Gap Report showcases the leadership of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, communities and organisations throughout critical health crises in 2020, and how strengths-based approaches are the most effective way to improve health outcomes for Australia’s First Peoples.
The Close the Gap Campaign Steering Committee has developed annual reports on action that needs to be taken to achieve health equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It is the campaign’s position to focus on strengths and successes told through Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices in order to counter deficit narratives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. First Nations people know what is best for their communities, and this remarkable and ongoing work has been summarised in this report.
- At times of crises true leadership steps up. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders moved rapidly to safeguard communities when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. Their actions were decisive and designed with each local community in mind and avoided a potential catastrophe. Some First Nations peoples' homelands, once threatened with closure by governments in the past, became some of the safest places in Australia.
- There is an increasing need for social and emotional wellbeing services in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities as a result of the events of 2020 and pre-existing effects of colonisation and inter-generational trauma. Strong cultural protective factors and resilience ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can withstand adverse circumstances, understanding health in a wider range of metrics than physical illness, with a focus on social, emotional, spiritual and communal wellness.
- There needs to be a preventative and rehabilitative approach through justice reinvestment to child and adult incarceration, in order to address the continued over-incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and adults. This is a source of ongoing trauma and a long term health concern.
- There is a need for a whole of government Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural policy that affirms the centrality of culture to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing, and informs investment in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural governance, maintenance and revitalisation projects, initiatives and activities.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and organisations are still operating under the constraints of dominant cultures and the Western worldview, navigating between this and the strengths of the communities they serve and represent. A paradigm shift in policy and planning is needed and should be based on the strengths and resilience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and organisations.