Student Number: 7563523
Tutor: Abbey Hamilton

Cultural Artefact:
(Gordon, 2011)

In June 2011 Prime Minister Julia Gillard attended a ceremony at which 4 parcels of land were given back to the Indigenous communities that once inhabited them. The Prime Minister vowed that the government would continue “closing the gap” of inequality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians through creating opportunity and ensuring responsibility. She stated that the government would work with and listen to the Indigenous community and together they would move forward. This picture was taken during that trip and shows a very affectionate Julia Gillard towards an Indigenous elder,Alice Ngalkin.

Public health Issue:
A large number of health issues currently plague the Indigenous population of Australia. Obesity, cardiovascular disease, mental health issues, cancer and substance abuse are but a few of the contributing factors resulting in a large inequality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, (AIHW). Despite the close the gap policy, inequality in health between Indigenous and non-indigenous communities is still reflected by a large estimated life expectancy difference (Australian Human Rights Commission). The following report will describe the current situation for Indigenous health in Australia. It will analyse the current data to determine what, if any, progress has been made to “close the gap” in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Literature review:
A life expectancy estimate reflects the current trends in death among certain groups provided all variables remain the same throughout the individual’s life (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2010). Differences in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians has increased over the last five years, from 17 years (Hoy,2009; Dragon, 2007) to around 11.5 years for males and 9.7 years for females (Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 2010). This inequality is quite apparent despite the current Labor government’s “Closing the gap” policy which was launched in 2008 under Kevin Rudd. It states that by the year 2030 Australia will have reached equality for all, essentially, the gap will no longer exist. Mr Rudd made a speech in 2009 with two of the goals being; to halve the mortality gap between Indigenous children and other children under age 5 within a decade and to close the gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians within a generation (Rudd, 2009). Using current data the attainability and success of these goals will be determined.

To evaluate the progress of the policy underlying reasons behind such a large variation in life expectancy must be understood. There is an overwhelming amount of data outlining the dire state of Indigenous Australian’s health. One study found that of the 413 participants attending a Queensland health clinic, 23% had depression, 48% had oral problems, 61% were overweight or obese, 67% currently smoked, 36% consumed harmful levels of alcohol and 29% used marijuana (Spurling, Hayman, & Cooney, 2009). While the study was limited by the small number of respondents, the data it provided can still give an understanding of the major health issues affecting Indigenous people living in accessible or highly accessible areas in Queensland (Australian Government, 2001).

Diagnosable medical conditions only represent one of the factors that determine overall health of an individual (Fleming & Parker, 2009). Nutrition and nutritional status also play an important role in general health and has been noted as a major determinant of excess mortality and morbidity rates among Indigenous Australians (Lee, Leonard, Moloney, & Minniecon, 2009). Brimblecombe and O’Dea (2009), found that in the Northern Territory, Indigenous Australians are consuming diets high in refined carbohydrates and low in fresh fruit and vegetables. The study which collected supply data from food outlets also and more importantly deduced a clear reason for this; cost. They found that given most of the people in the community relied heavily on Government pensions and allowances they therefore did not have the money to spend on a more expensive and healthier diet. Although this study was only carried out over three months the findings are supported by Lee et al. who suggest that Indigenous Australians spend up to 36% of the weekly family income on food, about twice the amount that non-Indigenous Australians spend. Given the lower socio-economic status of the people in the Indigenous community this is not surprising.

Disparities in Social Economic Status (SES) also lead to poor nutritional status. A study in 2009 discovered that in 2006 a mere 53.34% of Indigenous Australians had an income over half the Australian median compared to 76.16% of non-Indigenous Australians in the same year (Biddle, 2009). The same study also found that while 45.55% of Indigenous Australians were employed only 7.35% were employed as anything higher than a manager’s position compared to 19.53% of non-Indigenous Australians. Poor nutritional status in turn leads to high rates of diet-related chronic disease among Indigenous Australians. If the gap in health is to ever truly close, these problems must first be dealt with using appropriate programs and services.
(Biddle, 2009)

It has been put forward by Dragon (2007), that instead of setting up programs where outsiders come into an Indigenous community and tell that community what to do the Government should instead be allowing Indigenous people to lead the way. She states that by allowing them to take control and ownership of programs the community are more likely to respond positively and therefore the success of the clinic is much higher than other programs. This is supported by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Social Justice commissioner, who stated the need to recognise the success of community controlled services rather than rely on Government programs as they are generally ‘on the run’ and not evidence based (Calma, cited in Dragon, 2007).

It has also been mentioned that the Government’s goals and associated timeframes are unrealistic and unattainable (Hoy, 2009). It takes time and patience to discover the most successful and appropriate services and even then it again takes time to begin seeing positive results (Hoy, 2009). It is this type of criticism that jeopardises the public’s view of the Government’s sense of contribution and knowledge on the topic of Indigenous health and inequality.

To further this point a study was conducted world-wide, based on the mortality rates of Indigenous populations in various developed countries. It found that Australia’s Indigenous population were the most disadvantaged group of all the groups studied (Hill, Barker, & Vos, 2007). Granted this study is limiting as it was completed before the introduction of ‘closing the gap’ and the methods used are somewhat subjective, it clearly outlines the third-world-like characteristics Indigenous Australian’s are exposed to. Living in such a developed and wealthy county like Australia and given the current statistics discussed it seems only natural to question if the Government are really making any difference at all.

Overall there is an undeniable and insurmountable amount of evidence showing a large difference in life expectancies between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. In response to this issue the Government has put in place a policy known as ‘closing the gap’. The success of this policy so far is still reflected by a much larger proportion of the Indigenous community suffering from mental health issues, oral health issues, obesity, substance abuse and of course a continual lower socio-economic status than non-Indigenous Australians. The Government need to put in place more accessible, affordable and community based programs and services if this gap in inequality is ever going to be rectified.

Cultural and social analysis
History and politics:
The introduction of the “Closing the Gap” policy was a pivotal moment in Australian history and while it may have briefly over-shadowed important Indigenous issues it still does not eliminate the wrong-doings of the past. Through the 1950’s-1970’s, Indigenous Australians had next to no social or political rights. (Rowse, 2010). Their culture was judged to be beyond repair and the only solution was to assimilate them into mainstream society. (Kowal, 2008). This perfectly mirrors the idea put forward by Forrest & Dunn (2007) that “white Australian” culture is said to force people to conform which results in cultural intolerance and superiority of this ethnicity. It seems that presently little has changed and while there may be more focus on the issues faced by Indigenous people they are still lagging behind in many areas. One of the problems stated by Dockery (2010) is that although equity is trying to be achieved by the Government, traditional culture and lifestyle is considered to be a hindrance to this goal and therefore must be abolished. This does, however, seem unjustifiable when the fact that these people managed to survive for thousands and thousands of years using their own traditions and beliefs before European settlement is considered. While Indigenous culture may differ to non-Indigenous culture in Australia it does not mean that either one is less or more important than the other.

Remoteness, Education and Employment:
One aspect of Indigenous Australian culture is that the communities are very close. This could be one possible explanation for why most Indigenous people choose to stay in regional areas of the country. The ABS shows that 68% of Indigenous people live in a regional or remote area in Australia compared to 32% living in a city (ABS, 2008).This however creates certain issues. First and foremost education attendance in these rural areas is quite low with only 20% of Indigenous students completing year 12. (ABS, 2008) This then impacts upon the types of jobs available as they do not have the extensive skills or training associated with high-income jobs. This of course greatly affects the social economic status of these individuals and so continues the viscous cycle of poverty and ill-health. The easy solution would be to move these people to larger cities. It is however not a viable solution and could potentially lead to drastic implications for their health, including racism not to mention a loss of their culture altogether.

Racism in Australian Society:
While it may be nice to think that racism and discrimination against Australia’s Indigenous population does not exist this view is unfortunately optimistic and unrealistic. As part of the 2008 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS) (ABS), it was found that 27% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 and over reported being discriminated against in the last 12 months. Of this 11% was due to the general public, 11% die to the police/law and the remaining 8% at work or when applying for work. These figures paint a picture of a society which is still struggling to accept its first inhabitants of the land.

Conclusion and Recommendation:
Indigenous Australians have only gained rights, politically and socially in the last 60 or so years. They were neglected and badly treated by the Government before this point. Presently Indigenous Australians still experience inequality in relation to health, education and employment with many choosing to live in regional or remote areas in Australia. They experience racism and live in a society which fails to accept their culture and traditions. In order for this issue to move forward the Government must address all associated problems in a culturally appropriate way, seeing these individuals as potential assets to the greater community who simply need to be given the opportunity.

Analysis of artefact:
This picture represents how the Labor Government wish to be perceived in relation to Indigenous Health. It reflects a caring, knowledgeable and powerful Julia Gillard who has vowed to continue closing the gap. Although the Labor party may have alternate motives for taking this picture it does an excellent job of bringing to light the current issue of inequality. It has if anything kept the topic alive since the dismissal of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who began publicly addressing the issue in 2007. To me however, this picture represents politics at its worst. It seems like a political ploy to invoke an emotional response from voters and therefore gain support. I do acknowledge that the party has put in place policies to help reduce the gap however I feel there is much more that can and should be done.

This has been an extremely eye-opening piece to research and then write. It has allowed me to delve into a place I have never bothered to look before and discover the extreme disadvantage that occurs in this country. I am both amazed and disgusted to know the facts and figures of the inequality in health between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and how this has been permitted to continue for such a long period of time. Overall it has made me question the motives and agenda of the Australian Government and has led me to have serious doubts relating to how realistic and attainable closing the gap by 2030 really is. Most importantly however, I have learnt that this gap can be closed it will just take time, effort, money and evidence-based approaches.

Links to videos:


Reference List
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2008). National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey Education. . (Statistical Division). Retrieved from

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2010). The health and welfare of Australian’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. Demographic, social and economic characteristics: Life Expectancy. (Statistical Division). Retrieved from

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2010). The health and welfare of Australian’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. Social and Emotional Wellbeing: Discrimination. . (Statistical Division). Retrieved from

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2010). The health and welfare of Australian’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. Demographic, social and economic characteristics overview: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and where they live. (Statistical Division). Retrieved from

Australian Government. Department of Health and Ageing. (2001). Measuring Remoteness:
Accessibility/Remoteness Index of Australia (ARIA). Retrieved from$File/ocpanew14.pdf

Australian Human Rights Commission. (n.d.). Close the Gap: Campaign for Indigenous Health Equality. Retrieved October 13, 2011 from

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (n.d). Indigenous Health. Retrieved October 15, 2011 from

Biddle, N. (2009). Ranking Regions – Revisiting an Index of Relative Indigenous Socio-economic Outcomes. Australasian Journal of Regional Studies, 15, (3), 329-353. Retrieved from;dn=562399953100271;res=IELHSS

Brimblecombe, J. K., & O’Dea, K. (2009). The role of energy cost in food choices for an Aboriginal population in northern Australia. The Medical Journal of Australia, 190, (10), 549-551. Retrieved from

Dockery, A. M. (2010). Culture and Wellbeing: The Case of Indigenous Australians. Social indicators research,(0303-8300)99, (2), 315-332. doi: 10.1007/s11205-010-9582-y.

Dragon, N. (2007). A call to action: health equality for Indigenous Australians. Australian Nursing Journal, 14, (7), 21-24. Retrieved from¤tPosition=1&userGroupName=qut&resultListType=RESULT_LIST&sort=DateDescend&docId=A160230206&noOfPages=4

Fleming, M.L. and Parker, E. (2009). Introduction to public health. Australia: Elsevier.

Forrest, J., & Dunn, K. (2007). Constructing Racism in Sydney, Australia’s largest EthniCity. Urban Studies, 44, (4), 699-721. doi: 10.1080=00420980601185676.

Gordon, M. (2011). Emotions run high as Elders accept PM’s land hand-back. Retrieved from:

Hill, K., Barker, B., & Vos, T. (2007). Excess Indigenous mortality: are Indigenous Australians more severely disadvantaged than other Indigenous populations? International Journal of Epidemiology, 36, (3), 580-589. doi: 10.1093/ije/dym011.

Hoy, W. E. (2009). Closing the gap by 2030: aspiration versus reality in Indigenous health. The Medical Journal of Australia, 190, (10), 542-544. Retrieved from

Kowal, E. (2008). The Politics of the Gap: Indigenous Australians, Liberal Multiculturalism, and the end of the Self-Determination Era. American Anthropologist, 110, (3), 338-348. doi: 10.1111/j.1548-1433.2008.00043.x.

Lee, A. J., Leonard, D., Moloney, A. A., & Minniecon, D. L. (2009). Improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nutrition and health. . The Medical Journal of Australia, 190, (10), 547-548. Retrieved from

Rowse, T. (2010). The Reforming State, the Concerned Public and Indigenous Political Actors". The Australian journal of politics and history(0004-9522), 56(1), 66-81 . doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8497.2010.01542.x

Rudd, K., (2009). Closing the Gap Report. Retrieved from:

Spurling, G. K., Hayman, N. E., & Cooney, A. L. (2009). Adult health checks for Indigenous Australians: the first year’s experience from the Inala Indigenous Health Service. The Medical Journal of Australia, 190, (10), 562-564. Retrieved from