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Health policy timeline

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The following timeline, Major developments in national Indigenous health policy since 1967, summarises significant developments in various aspects of Indigenous health policy. By assisting people to understand the historical and current context of these aspects, it is hoped that collectively we can learn from past experiences in addressing the health disadvantages experienced by Indigenous people.

The timeline provides a national perspective of developments in Indigenous health policy, and does not include policy developments at the level of states and territories. The timeline is more thorough in its coverage of relatively recent aspects of Indigenous health policy, as these have been more fully documented than earlier developments.

The incorporation of representative information at the level of individual jurisdictions would require the active involvement of the individual states and territories. Ideally, inclusion of key state and territory developments in the national timeline would be accompanied by specific timelines for each state and territory.
We are aware also that our coverage of the development of substance use services is not as thorough as the coverage of other Indigenous health services. We welcome feedback about these or other issues covered in the timeline.

Please reference this document as:

Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet (2010). Major developments in national Indigenous health policy since 1967. Retrieved [access date] from



  1. Gardiner-Garden J (1997) The origin of commonwealth involvement in Indigenous affairs and the 1967 referendum. Background Paper 11 1996-97. Retrieved from
  2. Anderson I, Sanders W (1996) Aboriginal health and institutional reform within Australian federalism. Canberra: Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research


i Prior to the referendum, the Constitution, as adopted in 1901, had made only two references to Indigenous people, both of which were exclusionary in nature. The first was in Section 51 where it was stipulated that 'The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to: . (xxvi) The people of any race, other than the Aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws'. The second was in Section 127 which provided that 'In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, Aboriginal natives shall not be counted' [1].

ii The Program Effectiveness Review noted the debate between NAIHO, which was quoted as arguing for a plan to more than double the number of AMSs in order to replace the States grants programs, and the States who continued to defend their role in Indigenous health and their claim to the States grants. The report also recommended that, rather than the then system in which responsibility was shared between the Commonwealth Department of Health and the DAA, Indigenous health funds be transferred to the Department of Health [2].

iii Since 1973, when the Aboriginal Health Branch was established in the Commonwealth Department of Health, the administrative arrangements at Commonwealth level had become increasingly complex with the Departments of Health and Aboriginal Affairs having overlapping responsibilities for Indigenous health. A number of reports, including the 1980 Program Effectiveness Review , had recommended consolidation within one Commonwealth agency.

ivThe Development Group had estimated that the cost of addressing essential services and community infrastructure requirements alone would require $2.5 billion over 10 years, so it is likely that full implementation of the Strategy would have required around $3 billion over that time period.

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