March 28, 2019

Partnerships key to Closing the Gap

close the gap

Ten years in and Australia’s Closing the Gap Strategy is still not achieving its aims.

In recognising the significant gaps that continue to exist in Australia between the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous people, we acknowledge that:

Aboriginal and Torres Strait cultures are persistent and enduring, continuing unbroken from the past to the present, characterised by resilience and a strong sense of purpose and identity despite the undeniably negative impacts of colonisation and dispossession. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people throughout the country represent a diverse range of people, communities and groups each with unique identity, cultural practices and spiritualities. We recognise that the current health status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has been significantly impacted by past and present practices and policies.1

Closing the Gap Strategy

The Closing the Gap Strategy is a national effort that aims to close the health disparity gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and non-Indigenous Australians.
In 2008, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) set a target to achieve life expectancy and health equality by 2030 through this strategy. A Statement of Intent was signed by multiple groups in support of this strategy on 20 March 2008, following former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s National Apology to the Stolen Generations.2

What does the health gap mean?

The health gap refers to the fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are likely to experience poorer health outcomes when compared to non-Indigenous Australians, as demonstrated by the below data around alcohol and other drug use.

The average life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is approximately 17 years less than non-Indigenous people.3

The Closing the Gap Strategy has failed to meet targets since it was initiated 10 years ago.3,4

In fact, the mortality and life expectancy gaps have widened, largely due to improvements in these areas for non-Indigenous people.3

The lack of progress on these targets is complex, however a common theme is the fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have not been adequately included in the planning and implementation stages of the Strategy.3

The Closing the Gap refresh in the future will need to work in far closer partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

It is only when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are involved in the planning, implementation and evaluation of these targets that the gap may begin to close.1,4

Alcohol and other drug use

The most recent National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey was completed in 2014-15 and covers a range of health topics, including the use of alcohol and other drugs.1

This survey, along with many others, have consistently found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are less likely to drink than non-Indigenous people. However, of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that do drink, they are more likely to drink at levels that cause harm.1

We know from this data that the death rate from alcohol consumption was five times higher among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people than non-Indigenous people. However, the rate of drug-induced deaths (which can include the use of multiple drugs at the same time) was 1.9 times higher for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people than non-Indigenous people.1

The data also shows that most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people don’t use illicit drugs, with 69% reporting that they had never used drugs or have not used them in the last year.1
In addition to this data, the National Drug Strategy Household Survey (2016) found similar results. However, the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people included in this survey does not adequately represent what is happening in the communities that were surveyed. This is due to the survey design not enabling equitable representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.5

Closing the Gap Report 2019

The most recent Closing the Gap Report, delivered in mid-February 2019, has a strong focus on co-design and partnerships.6 Pat Turner, CEO of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation has stated that:

For the first time, I heard a genuine acknowledgement of why the Closing the Gap outcomes seem steeped in failure. I heard an acknowledgement that until Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are brought to the table as equal partners, the gap will not be closed and progress will not be made. This is a view that our community has expressed for many years – a view I am encouraged has finally been heard.4

Further Information

  1. Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet. (2019). Summary of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health status 2018.
  2. Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. (2018, August 22). Apology to Australia's Indigenous peoples.
    3. Holland, C. (2018, February). A ten-year review: the Closing the Gap Strategy and Recommendations for Reset.
    4. Turner, P. (2019, February 18). Closing the Gap 2019 - Opinion piece by Pat Turner.
    5. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2016). Illicit Use of Drugs.
    6. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. (2019, February 14). Close the Gap.

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