Closing the Gap

Page last updated: 19 September 2017

  • The Australian Government is committed to closing the gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
  • Good health helps children go to school. It supports adults to get and keep jobs. It builds resilient communities.
  • There have been improvements in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.
  • As detailed in the most recent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework 2017, the Government has invested in targeted activities that have delivered significant improvements reducing the burden of disease, including:
    o circulatory disease - down 43 per cent;
    o kidney disease - deaths down 47 per cent;
    o respiratory disease - deaths down 24 per cent;
    o smoking rates - down 9.7 per cent;
    o binge drinking - down nearly 8 per cent;
    o child mortality – down 33 per cent;
    o drinking during pregnancy - down 50 per cent; and
    o blindness and vision impairment – down from six times that of non-Indigenous Australians to three times that of non-Indigenous Australians.

    Funding for Indigenous health

  • Overall funding gets a big boost. The Government will invest $3.6 billion over four years through the Indigenous Australians’ Health Programme (IAHP), an increase of more than $724 million over the previous four years.
  • Key areas of investment are child and maternal health, and chronic disease prevention and management.
  • Mental health is another priority area. From July this year, funding of $85 million over three years will improve access to culturally sensitive, integrated mental health services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. These will be commissioned locally by Primary Health Networks, working closely with Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services.
  • The scourge of ice in many Indigenous communities is being tackled head-on. The Government is spending $241.5 million over four years for local alcohol and drug treatment services, including $78.6 million for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
  • Funding of $135.1 million will better integrate and coordinate care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with chronic disease, and help them to more easily navigate what can be a complex system.

    Improving health outcomes for mothers and babies

  • The Government is committed to halving the gap in child mortality for children aged less than five years.
  • Improved health and wellbeing in childhood helps to improve health, education and employment outcomes across the lifespan1.
  • Funding of $94 million for Better Start to Life will increase access to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander antenatal and postnatal care. Better Start to Life expands two established maternal, child and family health activities: the Australian Nurse-Family Partnership Program and New Directions: Mothers and Babies Services.

    Service integration

  • The Government is working to strengthen the links between child and family health services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.
  • There will be more integrated early childhood services in up to 15 sites across Australia in response to recommendation 1 of the Forrest Review, Creating Parity. The Connected Beginnings program will help Indigenous children to be healthy and ready for school.
  • Two other programs that seek to improve service integration are:
    o the Abecedarian Day Care Centre in Alice Springs, trialling alternative methods to support developmentally delayed children in their early years, and
    o the Trauma Assessment, Response and Referral Outreach Teams (TARROT), focusing on vulnerable Indigenous children.

    Access to primary health care services

  • The Government funds a national network of approximately 140 Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services and around 40 other services to deliver culturally competent, comprehensive primary health care.
  • These services delivered over 3.9 million episodes of care in 2015-16.
  • Access to primary health care services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is being improved. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people received 8.7 million Medicare-rebated services in 2015-16, nearly half – 4.2 million – for GP services. The rate of GP Medicare services claimed has almost doubled over the past 10 years.

    Tackling Indigenous Smoking

  • Smoking is down – it’s the lowest it has ever been. In April 2016, 41.4 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over 18 were daily smokers, down from 44.4 per cent in 2012-13 and 47.7 per cent in 2008.
  • The Tackling Indigenous Smoking program funds 37 regional grants to help people quit.
  • Evaluation of the first phase (2016) of the National Tobacco Campaign Don’t Make Smokes Your Story found that:
    o 58 per cent of Indigenous smokers exposed to the campaign took some form of action about their smoking, including nearly one in 10 (9 per cent) quitting as a result of the campaign; and
    o 27 per cent reduced how much they smoke.

    Implementation Plan for the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan (2013–2023)

  • The Implementation Plan for the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan, launched in October 2015, has introduced 20 new goals that deal broadly with improving the health of pregnant women, reducing smoking, tackling diabetes, providing more health checks and achieving better immunisation rates.
  • The Plan is being progressed in two stages. The first stage (2015-2018) is to strengthen the health system to:
    o respond flexibly to identified needs and service gaps;
    o support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to make healthy choices; and
    o provide culturally safe access to quality early intervention and treatment services.
  • The second stage will address the social and cultural determinants of Indigenous health.
  • The Department of Health has established a cross-portfolio working group to develop a whole-of-government strategic approach to address these determinants, and to inform the next iteration of the Plan in 2018.