Archived News Item

Indigenous health: national shame


By Tom Calma, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner

From The Herald Sun, December 12, 2006


The figures paint a staggering reality.


Indigenous men and women die 17 years earlier than other Australians.


Indigenous children are dying at almost three times the rate of non-indigenous children. Many indigenous people suffer chronic diseases, which are entirely preventable and have virtually been eliminated in the non-indigenous population.


Indigenous access to primary health care remains extremely poor.


These are not mere statistics. These people are real Australians who are suffering and dying daily.


They are someone’s grandparents, parents, children, brothers or sisters, aunties or uncles. Indigenous Australians want the situation to change, but we need support and encouragement to make this change.


The situation is perverse and illogical for a country of Australia‘s social and economic standing. How can the majority of the Australian population enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world, and yet Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples endure a health situation comparable with many Third World countries?


For many Australians, out of sight is out of mind, or their view of indigenous Australia is clouded by negativity in the media.


Politicians wax lyrical about human rights injustices throughout the world, but seem to disregard what is taking place in their own back yard.


How can such inequality and injustice take place in a country where everyone is supposed to be treated equally and given a fair go?


Because make no mistake, the health status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is a national shame.


We stand diminished as a nation and as individuals by ignoring the plight of our fellow Australians.


It is simply not acceptable for governments to continually state that the situation is tragic, then to say it should be treated with urgency and then fail to put in place targets, funding and timeframes to address the issue.


But it doesn’t have to be this way.


Dramatic improvements in health status and gains on many issues can be achieved within short time frames.


In Canada, New Zealand and the United States, the health of indigenous people has been rapidly improved by determined and concerted government action.


This has included support in identifying, implementing and managing solutions.


Indigenous and non-indigenous organisations, reconciliation and human rights groups, NGOs and key health bodies and agencies have formed a partnership.


They have committed to work with indigenous peoples and communities, as well as governments, to achieve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health equality within a generation.


The campaign, which was launched yesterday, is focused on an equitable distribution of primary heath care, including infrastructure for water, sanitation, food and housing within 10 years.

There is also a commitment to achieving equality of health and life expectancy within 25 years.


Addressing inequality in health status is not insurmountable, although it will require long-term action and a focused commitment.


Rapid achievements can be made by comprehensive and well-resourced government action.


It also requires the active and meaningful participation of indigenous people in the design, management and delivery of indigenous policy, health programs, services and infrastructure.


If we do not rise to the occasion, things are likely to get much worse.


The indigenous population is younger and growing faster than the non-indigenous population.


Unless we act now there is the risk that the next generations will inherit the burden of ill-health.


Almost 40 years ago, all Australians voted to recognise the rights of indigenous Australians in the historic 1967 referendum.


Only with the support of all Australians will we see real improvements in indigenous health.


Surely, there is no greater challenge to this country’s sense of decency, fairness and egalitarianism than addressing the status of indigenous health.


Source: The Herald Sun, December 12, 2006, page 19. 


A call for health equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples – Australia‘s leading health, human rights, aid and development organisations have called for health equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Read the statement.


Show your support for the Indigenous Health Challenge HERE.


For further information visit:


From: Sister Carmel Heagerty RSM (Institute Justice Co-orindator)