March 16, 2021
Closing Australia’s health and life expectancy gap
National Close the Gap Day takes place annually on the third Thursday in March.
On this day, organisations and communities around Australia hold events to raise awareness and pledge support for achieving Indigenous health equality by 2030.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have some of the poorest health outcomes of all Australians, and a marked gap exists in the health and life expectancy rates between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.1
Alcohol, tobacco and other drugs
One of the public health problems facing the Australian community is the harmful use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.
While most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people do not use illicit drugs, the negative health impacts and social harms associated with tobacco and alcohol do affect Indigenous Australians disproportionately, directly impacting health and life expectancy.2
The average life expectancy for Indigenous Australians is estimated to be 71.6 years for males (80.2 years non-Indigenous) and 75.6 years for females (83.4 years non-Indigenous).3
Closing the Gap
The Closing the Gap initiative was developed in 2008 by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) to close the health and life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians.
Targets centred around child mortality, childhood education, life expectancy and health with the goal to close the gap by 2030.4,5
Since Closing the Gap launched there has been slow progress in health, education and employment outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.4
Out of the seven Closing the Gap targets, only two were on track, and the goal of closing the gap on life expectancy by 2030 looks unlikely.
|Closing the Gap targets||Status|
|Close the gap in early childhood education||✔|
|Halve the gap in Year 12 attainment or equivalent by 2020||✔|
|Halve the gap in child mortality rates by 2018||✖|
|Close the gap in school attendance by 2018||✖|
|Halve the gap in literacy and numeracy by 2018||✖|
|Halve the gap in employment disparity by 2018||✖|
|Close the gap in life expectancy by 2030||✖|
A new way forward
In response to this slow progress the Closing the Gap strategy has been refreshed.
Launched in 2020, the new National Agreement on Closing the Gap sees a partnership between COAG and the Coalition of Peaks – a representative body of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community controlled peak organisations and members – to ensure Indigenous Australians have a greater say in the design and delivery of programs and services.4
This Agreement recognises the only way to close the gaps is when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people own, commit to and drive the outcomes, together with governments.5
The new strategy has been expanded and now incorporates four priority areas and 16 socio-economic targets, including criminal justice, suicide prevention, domestic violence, housing, language preservation, out-of-home care and land rights.6
Under the new agreement, all levels of government and the Coalition of Peaks share ownership, responsibility, and accountability to drive progress and ensure the Closing the Gap outcomes are met.6 An independent report on progress against the National Agreement will be undertaken three-yearly followed by an Indigenous-led review.
To further support this new beginning the Lowitja Institute has released a report We Nurture Our Culture For Our Future, And Our Culture Nurtures Us - Close the Gap.7 This report provides an understanding of the cultural determinants of health for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Culture underpins all aspects of Indigenous life, including connections to family, community, Country, ceremony and language.7
How to support Closing the Gap
By organising an activity, you can play an important role in spreading the word that you support Closing the Gap and demand health equality for all Australians.
For more information see https://antar.org.au/campaigns/national-close-gap-day
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Impact of alcohol and illicit drug use on the burden of disease and injury in Australia: Australian Burden of Disease Study 2011. Canberra: AIHW; 2018.
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia. Canberra: AIHW; 2020.
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.Australia's Health 2020 Indigenous life expectancy and deaths 2020 [09.02.2021].
- Australian Government. Closing the Gap in Partnership National Agreement on Closing the Gap: At a Glance. 2020 [12.02.2021].
- Australian Government Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. New National Agreement on Closing the Gap Cannberra 2020 [12.02.2021].
- Australian Indigenous Health InfoNet. History of Closing the Gap 2018 [10.02.2021].
- Lowitja Institute. We nurture our culture for our future, and our culture nurtures us: Australian Human Rights Commission; 2020.