Australia’s most influential medical journal has urged the health care profession to support the Yes case in the October referendum, saying Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health will benefit from a Voice to Parliament.
“There is no doubt a voice will improve Indigenous health outcomes,” she says.
About 24,000 doctors subscribe to MJA. Along with its associated publications it is read by 100,000 healthcare professionals each month.
In a lengthy editorial, Barbour writes the health outcomes in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations during the COVID‐19 pandemic provide an “outstanding example” of how results are best when Aboriginal people have a voice.
“Aboriginal community controlled health organisations coordinated the response from the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation down to remote communities,” she writes.
“As a result, the health gap was reversed in the first year of the pandemic, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations experiencing six times fewer cases than the non‐Indigenous population, and no recorded deaths.”
Barbour says before making the decision to support the Voice through the MJA, the journal drew on authoritative sources and other medical groups in Australia.
“In developing our position on the Voice, we have been mindful of other views. In the health sector, many organisations including the Lowitja Institute, the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, the Australian Medical Association, and other prominent medical and research organisations have shown leadership and have expressed support for the Yes vote, as have many universities and the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences.”
In her July 2023 speech to the Press Club making the case for the Voice, Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney put health at the top of her priorities, saying “I will ask the Voice to consider four main priority areas: health, education, jobs and housing”.
Barbour wrote: “Of the four priorities noted by Minister Burney, the effect of housing on jobs, jobs on education, and all of this on health is well known; health outcomes are more likely to be improved when the contributing factors are simultaneously addressed.
“But we cannot wait for the flow on effects to health to occur.
“In July 2023, the Productivity Commission Annual Data Compilation Report on Closing the Gap was published. The report card was not good. The four targets that are most directly health related – life expectancy, healthy birthweight, childhood development when starting school, and suicide rates – are not on track. Two of these – childhood development and people dying by suicide – have worsened.
“The health targets of the Closing the Gap report are just one indicator of how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are being failed by the current health system. Racism and discrimination are fundamental determinants of health. As highlighted by Pat Dudgeon and colleagues in the MJA in March, systemic racism – a legacy of colonisation – within and beyond the Australian health system remains prevalent and affects health directly.
“The National Agreement on Closing the Gap, published in 2020, is explicit about what is needed: “The Parties will listen to the voices and aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and change the way we work in response”.
Barbour says there has been no negative response to the editorial.
“While we recognise and respect that every Australian is entitled to vote as they decide, we are firmly of the view that MJA should support the Voice because of the Journal’s fundamental role in promoting and supporting what is best for Australian health policy and practice.”