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VACCHO submission to Yoorrook highlights vast disparity in Indigenous healthcare

Dechlan Brennan -

The Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation has made their submission to the Yoorrook Justice Commission's inquiry addressing systemic injustices faced by communities in healthcare, education, and housing; arguing current policies are still contributing to poorer health and wellbeing among Indigenous people in the state.

VACCHO used their submission to deep-dive into the barriers facing Indigenous people in accessing mainstream health services - many of which are mirrored nationally. This includes racism, which VACCHO argues stands out as a "formidable obstacle in recent decades".

The impact of historical trauma, loss of cultural identity, and ongoing racial discrimination contribute to elevated stress levels, which are linked to various health issues," the submission states.

VACCHO relayed the experience of one Elder, who was misdiagnosed and presumed to be intoxicated when suffering from serious illness:

"The (hospital) staff asked what he had had for breakfast, and he responded, 'Wheaties' but as his speech was slurred, the hospital staff believed he had said 'whiskey'. Despite his protests and attempts to correct the staff, they ignored him...Eventually, he was diagnosed with Huntington's disease."

VACCHO argues first-hand testimony like this is mirrored across the health sector, which have come about through "centuries of racist policies and racial stereotyping". This has led to significant health disparities for Indigenous people nationwide and an underfunded Aboriginal health sector.

Gunditjmara woman and VACCHO chief executive, Jill Gallagher, said their submission highlights the numerous shortcomings that persist in the health system to the overall detriment of Indigenous people.

"It is abundantly clear that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to be grossly failed by structures that should be protecting us," Ms Gallagher said.

"It feels like the Aboriginal flag is always flying at half-mast.

"The enduring presence of racism within health systems not only perpetuates intergenerational trauma but also undermines the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families in Victoria."

The submission focused on several key areas. These include: the impact on Indigenous people from the denial of self-determination, forced removal of children from families, and wage theft; and the current factors exacerbating health disparities - including racism - and the impact it plays on receiving quality healthcare.

"To eradicate racism, we need to change the belief that Aboriginal people and our ways of knowing, being and doing are inferior," the submission said.

"If Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous people are to reconcile, there has to be a mutual act of coming together to close the gap. Non-Aboriginal people must take a step towards us too."

Furthermore, VACCHO recommended solutions that promote "Aboriginal ways of being, knowing, and doing" - including Treaty; better funded Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation (ACCOs); and cultural safety standards in all mainstream health services.

They also called for the development of a dedicated Aboriginal-led accountability body to oversee government transparency, previously promoted in a joint Lowitja Institute / VACCHO study.

"VACCHO's submission is one of many raw and painful submissions being delivered," Ms Gallagher said.

"I encourage people to draw on their strength as their powerful truth-telling will play an integral role in bringing us closer to truth and justice, meaningful structural reform – and on the pathway to breaking the cycles that have held back Aboriginal Communities for over 250 years."

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