The Australian Bureau of Statistics’s new work on indigenous death rates has dramatically narrowed the calculated life expectancy gap between indigenous Australians and the overall Australian community.

As part of his apology to the Stolen Generation in February 2008, the Prime Minister committed to a major effort to address what he termed the “appalling 17-year life gap between indigenous and non-indigenous in overall life expectancy”.

The ABS has now adopted a new methodology to address the persistent problem of the under-reporting of deaths of indigenous people, which has skewed calculations of life expectancy and required assumption-based adjustments of actual data. The new approach uses information from death registrations after the 2006 census to match up data and determine how best to adjust reported death rates.

As a result, the ABS says the life expectancy gap between indigenous communities and the overall Australian community is 11.5 years for boys and 9.7 years for girls born in 2005-07.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial and get Crikey straight to your inbox

By submitting this form you are agreeing to Crikey's Terms and Conditions.

The ABS has “strongly advised” that the figures are not comparable to previous estimates of life expectancy but the new figures mean the Government will face less scrutiny as it will take longer to benchmark improvements in indigenous life expectancy.

Life expectancy for indigenous boys born in 2005-07 is now calculated at 67.2 years, compared to 78.7 years for non-indigenous males, and 72.9 years for indigenous girls, compared to 82.6 years for non-indigenous girls. It is highest for both indigenous boys and girls in NSW (69.9 years and 75.0 years), and lowest in the Northern Territory (61.5 years and 69.2 years). As well as the Northern Territory, there is also a bigger gap in life expectancy for indigenous people in Western Australia. Equally alarmingly, the Northern Territory is where the male-female gap is biggest, with indigenous men likely to die nearly 8 years younger than women (NT non-indigenous males also die much younger than women compared to elsewhere).

The change moves Australia fractionally up the shame table of indigenous health. We are now ahead of Canada, where Inuit people have a life expectancy of 64.4/69.8 years.