Australia’s leading medical groups have united to call for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be recognised in the country’s founding document, as a way to improve health outcomes.
A coalition of 117 groups including the Australian Medical Association, National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, the Cancer Council and The Heart Foundation has signed a statement calling on Australians to support constitutional recognition.
The joint statement says: “Australia’s First Peoples continue to die far earlier and experience a higher burden of disease and disability than other Australians.
“This is a result of long-term economic disadvantage and social exclusion, among other factors.
“Constitutional recognition would provide a strong foundation for working together towards better health and social wellbeing in the hearts, minds and lives of all Australians.”
The Lowitja Institute, a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research organisation has coordinated the signatories.
“We know clearly that how people see themselves, not only in their community but more broadly in their society, impacts on their wellbeing,” Lowitja Institute chief executive Romlie Mokak said.
He said the joint statement from such a large number of health organisations holds great significance.
“This is incredibly important. What we are saying here is that constitutional recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is critical for health and wellbeing,” he said.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott wants to see a referendum held in 2017.
The joint statement from the health groups acknowledges the need for public awareness if the referendum is to succeed.
“For the referendum to pass, the people of Australia need to understand and support the case for change, and there needs to be strong leadership from across the political spectrum, business and community sectors, and, of course, from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders,” the statement said.