Closing The Gap Review: VACCHO Calls for Urgent Government Action to Empower ACCOs

Feb 6, 2024

The Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) expresses deep concern over the findings of The Review of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, which underscores the failure of governments to prioritise having Aboriginal health in Aboriginal hands.

The report reveals a troubling lack of progress in implementing crucial reforms aimed at enhancing the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities.

The Closing the Gap Agreement outlined Priority Reforms designed to address key areas such as justice, social and emotional wellbeing, health, housing, early childhood care and development, disability, and languages.

Despite goodwill from governments, Review’s assessment illustrated that progress on the Priority Reforms has been “slow, uncoordinated and piecemeal.”

Further, and of particular, concern to VACCHO is the continued undervaluation of the pivotal role played by Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) in delivering life-changing services.

The Review of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap highlights governments’ failure to empower ACCOs adequately, hindering their capacity to address the specific needs and priorities of their communities.

The Review also noted that ACCOs often find themselves treated merely as passive recipients of government funding, rather than recognised partners in shaping and delivering essential services.

The Productivity Commission’s first recommendation is that power needs to be shared.

Excellent health and wellbeing outcomes are achieved when Aboriginal Communities are empowered to be in the driver’s seat, and actively involved in developing and delivering services at a local level. The success of this approach has been evident through the vital work Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) carry out to enhance the health and wellbeing of Communities.

The success of these impactful initiatives illustrates what is achievable when power is shared with Community. This is why Treaty will be critical to closing the gap in Victoria.

VACCHO keenly notes the Review’s recommendations around stronger accountability and welcomes the suggestion for an independent mechanism in each jurisdiction to be implemented.

VACCHO CEO Jill Gallagher AO emphasises the urgent need for governments to prioritise strengthening ACCOs’ capacity to drive meaningful progress in Closing the Gap in life expectancy and health and wellbeing outcomes for Aboriginal communities.

“Despite varying government statements to the contrary, there appears to be a lingering, deep-rooted colonial-era notion in this country that governments know what is best for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

“In many ways the review reaffirms that despite the best intentions, governments are still sticking with the status quo, by failing to take concrete steps to put Aboriginal health in Aboriginal hands.”

“Community knows Community best. For over half a century, Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) have been delivering extraordinary health and wellbeing outcomes for Communities by providing services within an environment and atmosphere where culture is celebrated.”

“Victoria has a long and proud history of Aboriginal Community-controlled healthcare where healthcare for the Community is delivered by the Community, and no one is turned away.”

“It’s time for governments to release the shackles and create transformative policies that empower ACCOs, and their dedicated staff continue to apply Aboriginal ways of being, knowing, and doing to support thriving, healthy Communities.”

Artwork by Lani Balzan (Wiradjuri) titled Yindyamarra ‘Connection’

Read the Review of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap report 

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VACCHO is the peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing in Victoria – the only one of its kind – with 33 Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations as Members. VACCHO Members support over 65,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Victoria, and combined are the largest employers of Aboriginal people in the state.