Final report on alcohol problems of Aboriginals, an Australian Parliamentary Report, is released.
1979:Aboriginal Health, a report by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs (HRSCAA), is released. It notes
that the “standard of health of Aborigines was still far lower than the
majority of Australians” and that “little progress had been made in
raising it”. And its chairman Philip Ruddock notes: “When innumerable
reports on the poor state of Aboriginal health are released there are
expressions of shock or surprise and outraged cries for immediate
action. However … the appalling state of Aboriginal health is soon
forgotten until another report is released.”
1980: The Program Effectiveness Report,
an internal Commonwealth Government report (never publicly released)
considers Indigenous involvement in Aboriginal health policy
development, the introduction of specific Indigenous health initiatives
and the existing arrangements for funding and administration of
1981: The Commonwealth Government initiates a $50 million five-year Aboriginal Public Health Improvement Program focusing on unsatisfactory environmental conditions associated with inadequate water, sewerage and power systems.
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Royal Commission Report of Inquiry
into the death of Bruce Thomas Leslie, the Aboriginal man who was
wrongly diagnosed as being drunk by ambulance officers and was taken to
Tamworth Police Station. An X-Ray later showed he in fact had a
fractured skull. Leslie died of a brain haemorrhage.
1982:Strategies to help overcome the problems of Aboriginal town camps, an HRSCAA report, is released.
A report looking at the disproportionate number of Aboriginal people charged with minor offences
is released by the SA Office of Crime Statistics releases. Findings
include the fact that more than 58% of all defendants appearing on
drunkenness, vagrancy, offensive behaviour and liquor-related charges
in courts outside the Adelaide metropolitan area are Aborigines, even
though this racial group constitutes less than 2% of the rural
1988: Australia has violated the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, according to a United Nations official
sent to Australia to investigate the conditions of Aborigines.
1989:A National Aboriginal Health Strategy,
the landmark final report of the National Aboriginal Health Strategy Working
Party (NAHSWP), is presented to the Joint Ministerial Forum. It determines primary health
care is one of the key strategies for addressing Aboriginal
health disadvantage and identifies the need to develop more
collaborative health service planning processes. It also devotes a
chapter to the impact of substance abuse.
1991: The final report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody
(RCADC), which investigated 99 deaths of Aboriginals in custody over a
nine-year period, is released. It finds that the disproportionate rate
at which Aboriginal people are arrested was the major and most
immediate cause of these deaths, and also reveals a history of racism
and state control of Indigenous communities. It makes 339
The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) launches the National Inquiry into Racist Violence, which concludes that racist violence against Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders is endemic, nationwide and very severe.
The Commonwealth Government announces a $150 million five-year funding
package, principally for the establishment of Aboriginal-controlled
drug and alcohol services.
1993: Health facilities available for Aborigines and
Torres Strait Islanders should be completely revamped, according to a
report tabled in Federal Parliament. The report, by the Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander Health Policy Unit and the Health Department,
finds that Aboriginal mortality is 3-4 times than the rest of the
community, that mortality rates from pneumonia are ten times higher
than of the population as a whole and that mortality rates from
diabetes are nine times that of the population as a whole.
1994 :A National Aboriginal Health Strategy: An Evaluation finds
that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders face the health hazards of
a hostile and inadequate physical environment (contaminated water, poor
sanitation, and unsafe housing, transport and work conditions) and
argues that “setting up committees will resolve nothing” – what is
needed is a bold and clear national initiative that will “step over the
shambles” of previous efforts.
The Report to the National Committee to Defend Black Rights:Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Custodial Deaths Between May 1989 and January 1994
is released, finding that the the national rate of Aboriginal custodial
deaths has not decreased and that many of those who have died have done
so because key areas of reform highlighted by the RCIADIC have not
1995:The Alcohol Report: Race Discrimination, Human Rights and the Distribution of Alcohol
exposes alcohol misuse and its impact on Aboriginal communities in the
Northern Territory and highlights the lack of consultation between the
NT Liquor Commission and Indigenous communities, recommending
amendments to the Liquor Act (1978) to allow Aboriginal communities more control over the provision of alcohol to their communities.
1996: The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and Welfare Information Unit (ATSIHWIU) undertakes a review to develop a National Plan for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Information.
1997:The Health and Welfare of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples
– a joint publication of the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare – reveals that “almost four
in ten Indigenous households were estimated to have either insufficient
income to meet basic needs (even before taking housing into account),
or not enough income to afford adequate housing.”
1998:Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Program, a
National Audit Office performance audit of the Department of Health and
Aged Care, reports that the life expectancy at birth of Aboriginals and
Torres Strait Islanders is 15-20 years lower than all Australians, that
for all causes of death combined there were 3.5-4 times more deaths
than expected among Indigenous people, and that Indigenous people are
2-3 times more likely to be hospitalised.
1999:National Aboriginal Health Strategy – delivery of housing and infrastructure to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, a National Audit Office performance auditof
the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, reports that a
lack of basic facilities, such as access to adequate housing, water and
waste removal, is contributing to the high morbidity rate of Indigenous
Australians and that ATSIC was not administering the housing program in
a timely, costly or efficient manner.
2000:Health is life,
the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family and Community
Affairs final report on Indigenous health issues, finds a “lack of
clear delineation of responsibility for Indigenous health,” and that
the parties, particularly the States, indulge “wherever possible” in
shifting the onus for payment to another sector and that “the lack of
any real efforts to integrate community involvement into the planning
and delivery of health and related services” has been been one of the
biggest barriers to progress.
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, in a report on Australia’s treatment of its Indigenous population,
notes that “mandatory sentencing schemes appear to target offences that
are committed disproportionately by indigenous Australians” in Western
Australia and the Northern Territory and remains concerned by “the
extent of the continuing discrimination faced by indigenous Australians
in the enjoyment of their economic, social and cultural rights”.
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer’s responds: “We won’t cop it any
longer. We are a democratically elected government in one of the most
liberal and democratic countries you will find on Earth. And if a
United Nations committee wants to play domestic politics here in
Australia, then it will end up with a bloody nose.”
2001: The draft National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Strategyis
released by the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health
Council, recommending greater resources be deployed on the issues of
Aboriginal substance misuse, community violence and suicide. It notes
that many of these issues were raised in the National Aboriginal Health Strategy (1989) but “there was insufficient commitment to action following the 1989
2002:TheNHMRC Road Map: a strategic framework for improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health through researchis
released, recommending that research needs to be targeted towards the
major causes and risks of poor health for Indigenous Australians –
specifically chronic diseases, injury (including assault and suicide),
mental health, drug and alcohol abuse, communicable diseases and
maternal and child health.
2003: The 4th edition of the biennial report The health and welfare of Australia’s Indigenous Peoples 2003, is published by the ABS and the AIHW.
A Canadian study reports that the quality of life of Australian
Aborigines is the second worst in the world, while the general
Australian population ranks fourth best in the world.
2005: The Australian government appears again before the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which expresses serious concern
about the abolition of ATSIC, the lack of genuine progress in native
title, the continuing over-representation of Indigenous peoples in
prisons and the extreme inequities between Indigenous peoples and
others in the areas of employment, housing, health, education and
The biennial report from the ABS and AIHW shows that
“overall, estimated expenditure on health services provided to
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples during 2001-02 was $3,901
per person –18% higher than the estimated expenditure on services
delivered to non-Indigenous Australians – which was due to high rates
of care for Aboriginal people “involving dialysis and hospitalisations
for other potentially preventable chronic conditions”.
For further information see the Indigenous health policy timeline at Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet.
List compiled by Marika Webb-Pullman, Sophie Vorrath and Jane Nethercote