People profile: Jackie Huggins and Pat Turner, Co-Chairs, Close the Gap Campaign Steering Committee

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

On Tuesday 14 February Parliament House was the venue for the Redfern Statement Parliamentary Event hosted by the Co-Chairs of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, Dr Jackie Huggins and Mr Rod Little.

The Redfern Statement, originally developed and launched in 2016 by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders, calls for a new relationship between Australia’s political leaders and the First Peoples of this country.

Earlier this month we published, in our recent Close-the-Gap themed issue of The Health Advocate, this  profile piece on Dr Huggins and another prominent Australian working to Close the Gap, Ms Pat Turner.

You can find the full version of this article, and many others related to Close the Gap here.


Since 2006, Australia's peak Indigenous and non-Indigenous health bodies, NGOs and human rights organisations have worked together to achieve health and life expectation equality for Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This is known as the Close the Gap Campaign.

Jackie Huggins and Pat Turner are Co-Chairs of the Close the Gap Campaign Steering Committee, focused on closing the health and life expectancy gap within a generation—by 2030.

Here we take a short look at where they came from and what drives them.


Jackie Huggins: Four decades in Aboriginal affairs

Dr Jackie Huggins AM, FAHA has been a long-term advocate for the prevention of domestic and family violence, commencing in the early 1990s as Chair of the Queensland Domestic Violence Ministerial Council.

Her lifetime work has spanned many of the social determinants of health—Jackie takes an holistic approach to her work and life in addressing the many concerns confronting the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities she seeks to serve. 

‘Close the Gap is a vital instrument in measuring outcomes of the health status and life expectancy of Indigenous Australians’, she says. ‘There is a long road to travel to bring the aspirations and goals of CTG in addressing disadvantage in line with that of the wider population.’

Jackie was born in Ayr, North Queensland, and moved to Brisbane early in life when her father died in 1958 at the age of 38 as a result of his Prisoner of War World War 2 experience, when his people were not yet citizens of their own country. Her mother remained a war widow and Jackie led the typical life of an Aboriginal child in the 1960s, materially poor but rich in family and community.

Her school years were spent in Inala, Brisbane, where she left at the age of 15. Later she would excel at University, contrary to her schooling, which at the time had such low expectations of Aboriginals.

Having experienced this Jackie wanted to prove that a deficit model of her people served no purpose and was incorrect—so she embarked on a lifelong mission to dispel the often negative stereotypes that abound.

One of Jackie’s favourite quotes is from Maya Angelou—‘Nothing can dim the light which shines from within’.

Jackie Huggins is a Birri-Gubba Juru and Bidjara woman from Queensland. She has had over four decades involvement in Aboriginal affairs, having worked across government, non-government and community sectors. As part of her role as Co-Chair National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, she has been the Co-Chair of the Close the Gap campaign since November 2015.


Pat Turner: Committed to Closing the Gap

Pat Turner knows all too well why improving life expectancy and the overall health status for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples throughout our country is so important. Over the years she has attended far too many funerals and witnessed the grief and pain of too many families due to the premature loss of their loved ones for far too long.

‘The health disadvantage statistics for Aboriginal people speak for themselves’, she says. ‘We now know that the social and cultural determinants of health matter and I continue to advocate for a fully resourced package from governments to redress these inequalities.’

Pat believes there is no agenda more critical to Australia than enabling Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to live good quality lives while enjoying all their rights and fulfilling their responsibilities to themselves, their families and communities.

‘Aboriginal people should feel safe in their strong cultural knowledge being freely practised and acknowledged across the country. This should include the daily use of our languages, in connection with our lands and with ready access to resources. Aboriginal people should feel safe, free from racism, empowered as individuals and have health services to meet their needs and overcome health inequality.’

The government strategy to Close the Gap on key health indicators, including life expectancy and health status, is paramount to achieving lasting positive outcomes within a generation. ‘Of course housing, education and employment opportunities also matter and need to be redressed’, Pat says.

With the imprimatur of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), the Close the Gap strategy I seen by Pat as the best opportunity to meet the strategy’s objectives by working in true partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities at all levels, but especially at the local community level where the people live.

‘Top-down imposed programs generally fail because local people have no ownership of them. Solutions are only fully effective and practical when they come from the locals themselves’, she concludes.

As the Co-Chair of the Close the Gap Campaign Steering Committee, and with extensive experience in the public sector, academia and corporate practice, Pat is committed to making a difference and advocating for Aboriginal people to all levels of government.

Pat Turner is CEO of National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) in Canberra, where she lives with her extended family. Pat is of Arrernte and Gurdanji descent. She had a long and distinguished career in the Australian Public Service including as Deputy Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and Centrelink, and was the longest serving CEO of the former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC). She was also the inaugural CEO of National Indigenous Television (NITV).