Summary of Australian Indigenous health, 2012

Public health Indigenous health Well-being Australia

This paper provides a plain language summary of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, with brief information about the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, health problems and common risk factors.


This summary includes the following information about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples:

  • population
  • births
  • deaths
  • common health problems
  • health risk and protective factors.

This summary uses information from the most up-to-date sources to help create a picture of the health of Australia’s Indigenous people. This report uses four main sources of information:

  • reports in the Health and welfare of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples series produced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW)
  • the Indigenous compendium to the Report on government services produced by the Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision (SCRGSP)
  • reports on key indicators of Indigenous disadvantage also produced by SCRGSP
  • reports in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health performance framework series produced by the Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council for the Department of Health and Ageing.

Data for these reports are collected through health surveys, by hospitals, and by doctors across Australia.

An important issue when collecting health information or data is to make sure the information is accurate and reliable. If some details are missing the information may not be accurate. For example, to understand data about Indigenous people, states and territories need to collect information about their patients, including whether a person is Indigenous. Some states and territories (like SA, WA and the NT) reliably collect this information, but others (like the ACT and Tas) do not. This means that most information about the health of Indigenous people is only accurate for certain states and territories, but not for Australia as a whole. The information about the Indigenous population is getting better, but there are still limitations. To get a more detailed picture of Indigenous health (which includes details of the coverage of each health topic by states/territories), please refer to our Overview of Australian Indigenous health status.

To create a complete picture, all the information in this report should be looked at in the context of the 'social determinants of health', the term used to talk about factors that affect people's lives, including their health.

The social determinants of health include if a person:

  • is working
  • feels safe in their community (no discrimination)
  • has a good education
  • has enough money
  • feels connected to friends and family.

Social determinants that are particularly important to many Indigenous people are:

  • their connection to land
  • the historical past that took people from their traditional lands and away from their families.

If a person feels safe, has a job that earns enough money, and feels connected to their family and friends, they will generally be healthier. Indigenous people are generally worse off than non-Indigenous people when it comes to the social determinants of health.

A lot of health services are not as accessible and user-friendly for Indigenous people as they are for non-Indigenous people, adding to higher levels of disadvantage. Sometimes this is because more Indigenous people than non-Indigenous live in remote locations and not all health services are offered outside of cities. Sometimes health services are not culturally appropriate (do not consider Indigenous culture and the specific needs of Indigenous people). Also, some Indigenous people may not be able to use some services because they are too expensive.

What makes health services more accessible for Indigenous people?:

  • having Indigenous Health Workers on staff
  • increasing the number of Indigenous people working in the health sector (doctors, dentists, nurses, etc)
  • designing health promotion campaigns especially for Indigenous people
  • having culturally competent non-Indigenous staff
  • making important health services available in rural and remote locations (so Indigenous people living in rural and remote areas do not have to travel to cities, away from their support networks)
  • funding health services so they are affordable for Indigenous people who might otherwise not be able to afford them.
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