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Australian Indigenous HealthBulletin

Concluding comments

Concluding comments

The health status of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continues to improve slowly. However, it is clear from this Overview that Indigenous people remain the least healthy sub-population in Australia. Being a 'snapshot' of the most recent indicators of health status - with limited attention to trends - the Overview doesn't, however, fully reflect the evidence for improvements in key closing the gap targets.

With respect to life expectancy, while there has been a decrease in overall death rates between 1998 and 2013 of 16%, this apparent good news is tempered by the fact that there has been no significant decrease between 2006 and 2013 [1]. The most recent estimates, in 2010-12, of life expectancy at birth for Indigenous people, indicate a life expectancy of 69.1 years for males and 73.7 years for females. This represents an absolute gain from 2005-2007 to 2010-2012. While these absolute gains are ameliorated somewhat by the relative gains by non-Indigenous people the Closing the Gap Steering Committee welcomed the gains as an 'on the ground' improvement that has tangible meaning for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities ([2], p.7).

There appears to have been sustainable improvements in the target to halving the gap in mortality rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children by 2018 [1].1 Nevertheless, as pointed out in the Close the gap progress and priorities report, due to a decrease in the death rate for non-Indigenous children the rate ratio has not changed in the last decade [2].

A number of key initiatives and commitments offer promise of contributing to continued efforts to close the gap. There is increased acknowledgement of the importance of strong cultural foundations to sustainable improvements in health and well-being [3][1]. As noted earlier in this Overview, a shift in the discourse about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health from deficit to strengths based approaches is a powerful and empowering development [4]. An increased focus on 'what works' provides tangible signposts for positive pathways forward. In this respect the recognition of the importance of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community controlled health sector will be crucial [5]. On the national stage, constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples has been linked to positive health and wellbeing outcomes [3]. Integrated, holistic, systemic changes such as these are essential to the long term future for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as identity strengthening and empowering strategies to improve health outcomes.


  1. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (2015) Closing the gap: Prime Minister’s report 2015. Canberra: Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Australia
  2. Holland C (2015) Close the gap: progress and priorities report 2015. Sydney: Australian Human Rights Commission
  3. Australian Department of Health and Ageing (2013) National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan 2013-2023. Canberra: Australian Department of Health and Ageing
  4. Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision (2014) Overcoming Indigenous disadvantage: key indicators 2014. Canberra: Productivity Commission
  5. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2015) Healthy Futures - Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services: report card. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare


  1. While the 2013 rate was above the trajectory range this was due to a large number of 2012 deaths being registered in 2013. The average rate for the two years is within the required trajectory to achieve the target by 2018.

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    Last updated: 11 May 2015
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