This report examines progress towards closing the gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians in areas such as health, employment and education.
The closing the gap health and health related-programs have continued to be rolled out in the past year and have the potential to make significant headway in relation to smoking cessation, infant health and chronic disease. But over three years after the programs were announced, we are not yet in a position to accurately assess if Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life expectancy is increasing in absolute terms, let alone whether the all-important relative gains are being made to close the 10 to 11 year gap with the non-Indigenous population.
The most recent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life expectancy estimate is for 2005–07. The methodology for calculating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life expectancy relies on the Census for verification and, as a result, we have up to two years to wait before a current estimate verified by 2011 Census data is available. It is absolutely vital that we have this information sooner if we are to learn in a timely fashion from the first three years of the closing the gap program, and – over time – from all the phases of the closing the gap effort (until 2030). To ensure this happens Australian governments must be able to provide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life expectancy estimates at time intervals shorter than five or more years.
Otherwise there are mixed signals in the data. If current trends continue, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander under-five mortality rates may fall within the range of the COAG Closing the Gap Target by 2018. However, much more progress needs to be made on reducing the number and proportion of low birth weight babies than is currently the case. And while over the past two decades mortality data (a proxy indicator for life expectancy) indicates the life expectancy gap may have narrowed, it is of concern that progress has slowed from 2001 onwards.