Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health

16 February 2011 – 9:30am


The gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians remains one of the most compelling health problems confronting Australia today. The higher prevalence of a range of chronic and communicable diseases and social and emotional health problems among Indigenous peoples is unacceptable. There is a limited health and medical workforce providing culturally appropriate primary care services for Indigenous Australians, and a range of social, environmental and economic factors act to entrench health problems. A concerted effort is needed to improve the access of Indigenous Australians to high quality health care if the gap in life expectancy is to be closed within a generation.

Key issues for patients

The very poor health status of Australia’s Indigenous peoples is a disaster for them and an indictment of the nation as a whole. With the right support and access to appropriate health care, Indigenous people can develop practical solutions and preventive approaches to some of the health-related problems in their communities. It is important to engage Indigenous people in their own health care solutions.

Key issues for the Government

Australia’s health system is undergoing major reform, including the creation of regionalised primary health care organisations that have potential to promote best practice and continuity of care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. COAG’s agreement for the Federal Government to take 100 per cent funding responsibility for GP, primary care and aged care services provides an opportunity for one level of government to ensure that funding is channelled to where it is most needed.


The AMA welcomed and supported the 2008 COAG National Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap in Indigenous Health Outcomes, then funded at $805 million over four years. The AMA calls on the Government to develop and implement in partnership with Indigenous people a long-term national strategic plan to improve the health of Indigenous people, with tangible intermediate goals. In addition, the AMA calls for further funding to be included in the forthcoming Budget for the following immediate priorities:

  • expansion of the workforce for Indigenous health, through additional grants to enhance infrastructure and services, to allow Aboriginal Medical Services to offer mentoring and training in Indigenous health in Indigenous communities to Indigenous and non-Indigenous medical students and vocational trainees, and offer salary and conditions for doctors working in Aboriginal Medical Services that are comparable to those of State salaried doctors;
  • development of a network of Centres of Excellence in Indigenous Health across Australia to act as training and research hubs for medical professionals seeking high quality practical experience and accreditation in Indigenous health;
  • $10 million per annum over 10 years to fund grants to NGOs and community groups for healthrelated capacity building in Indigenous communities throughout Australia; and
  • measures to improve urgently all of the social determinants of health in Indigenous communities.

It is an imperative that the transfer of 100 per cent of primary health care funding responsibility to the Federal Government does not disadvantage community-based Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services, and that the Federal Government fully replaces funding that was provided to those services from other sources, such as State governments and local councils.