Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Launch of the AIHW/ABS Report: The Health and Welfare of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples


The health and welfare of Indigenous Australians are top priorities for the Rudd Government and we have set specific targets to turn around the unacceptable levels of Indigenous disadvantage.

To do this we need relevant, accurate data so that we can monitor progress and plan and implement effective policies and services.

This report, released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, provides comprehensive, accurate information on the health and welfare of Indigenous Australians.

The sort of information we need to:

  • Close the 17-year gap in life expectancy within a generation;
  • Halve the gap in under 5 mortality within 10 years;
  • Halve the gap in reading, writing and numeracy within a decade;
  • Boost employment outcomes over the same time frame; and
  • Make sure every four-year-old in remote Aboriginal communities is attending an early childhood education centre in the next 5 years.

I have no illusions about how tough this is going to be especially when up until now improvement has been far too slow.

So it’s heartening to see that this report does indicate improvement in some areas.

These include:

A decline in Indigenous infant mortality in Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory from 1991 to 2005.

A decline in all-cause mortality in WA for Indigenous males and females over the same period.

Improvements in education – between 2001 and 2006 Year 12 completion rates for Indigenous people aged 15 years and over increased from 20 per cent to 23 per cent.

Employment-the unemployment rate for Indigenous people aged between 15 and 64 years fell from 20 per cent to 16 per cent between 2001 and 2006 while the labour force participation rate increased from 52 per cent to 54 per cent.

Housing-the rates of home-ownership for Indigenous households increased from 31 per cent in 2001 to 34 per cent in 2006.

Improvement yes – but frustratingly slow.

And of course despite these small gains:

  • the majority of Indigenous Australians die before reaching the age of 65 years;
  • Indigenous children are over represented in the child protection system – the rate of Indigenous children on care and protection orders is over six times the rate of other children;
  • hospitalisation for kidney dialysis is 14 times the rate of non-Indigenous people;
  • more than 100,000 Indigenous people live in sub-standard, overcrowded housing;
  • 50 per cent of Indigenous adults are smokers and two thirds start smoking before they turn 18; and
  • 20 per cent of Indigenous people living in remote areas reported no usual daily intake of fruit while 15 per cent reported no usual daily intake of fresh vegetables.

And also included in the report, shocking data on the incidence of acute rheumatic fever. Between 2003 and 2006, 250 new cases of Acute Rheumatic Fever were reported in the Top End and Central Australia – of these 98 per cent were Indigenous.

As you all know, Acute Rheumatic Fever is almost unknown in developed countries, yet rates in some Australian Indigenous communities are among the highest in the world. The fact that new cases were still presenting when this data was collected is a shameful indictment of Indigenous health.

The Australian Government has committed $10.3 million to tackling rheumatic fever through the establishment of a National Coordination Unit to coordinate our efforts and establish program sites to diagnose the disease and provide treatment. And recognising the link between disease and poor housing, we are working in partnership with the Northern Territory Government to provide around 750 new houses and 2,500 upgrades at a cost of $647 million.

We are delivering on our election commitments across the health, education and employment sectors. This includes:

  • 200 new teachers in the NT
  • Three new boarding colleges in the NT
  • $10 million to upgrade and expand remote health care facilities
  • $5 million to establish satellite renal dialysis facilities in remote communities.

We are continuing to roll out the Northern Territory Emergency response with more than 8,600 people now being income managed to make sure welfare payments are spent on essential items not grog, gambling and drugs.

More than 8,600 child health checks have been carried out and a range of follow-up treatments are underway. More than 50 additional police are on the ground in remote NT communities.

Over the next four years, the Australian Government will invest $14.5 million to tackle high rates of smoking in Indigenous communities.

And we are investing $19 million to strengthen the Indigenous health workforce, to encourage more Indigenous people to take up careers as health professionals. We know that a strong Indigenous health workforce will be critical to improving Indigenous health services in the long term.

We know that there is no silver bullet to turn around Indigenous disadvantage. We are working across all areas – housing, education and health. We’re also determined to create the opportunities and conditions to provide real jobs, essential to building a secure, independent future for Indigenous Australians

I said earlier how important accurate, relevant data is in our efforts to improve Indigenous health and wellbeing.

As the authors and drivers of policy we need quality data to know what works and what doesn’t.

But there are glaring gaps in national data collection. For example this report only contains data on Indigenous deaths from the Northern Territory, Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland.

This reveals serious gaps in the collection of essential information including Indigenous mortality. This must be addressed.

The Government knows that if we are to close the gap in Indigenous disadvantage we must fill in the gaps in data collection.

That’s why we recently launched the first the longitudinal study of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children called Footprints in Time.

The study will track around 2,200 children in two age groups in locations across Australia over at least four years.

By collecting this data, we can better understand the links between early childhood experiences and later life outcomes for Indigenous children. And we can make the evidence-based decisions that are essential to bring about real change.