4704.0 - The Health and Welfare of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, 1997  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 02/04/1997   
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April 2, 1997
Embargoed 11:30am (AEST)

Governor-General launches statistical report on the health and welfare of Australia's Indigenous peoples

The report The Health and Welfare of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, which is a joint publication of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), was launched by the Governor-General, Sir William Deane, in Darwin TODAY Wednesday 2 April at 11:30am (12.00 Noon EST)

This first biennial report provides a comprehensive statistical overview, largely at the national level, and is primarily concerned with health and covers risk factors for poor health, health service issues, morbidity and mortality.

Selected findings from the report are as follows:

  • Indigenous Australians suffer a higher burden of illness and die at a younger age than non-Indigenous Australians, and this is true for almost every type of disease or condition for which information is available. In 1992-94, the life expectancy of Indigenous people in Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory was about 15-20 years lower than for their non-Indigenous counterparts. Comparable figures are not available for other states.
  • The health disadvantage of Indigenous Australians begins early in life and continues throughout the life cycle. On average, Indigenous mothers give birth at a younger age than non-Indigenous mothers. In most States and Territories, their babies are about 2-3 times more likely to be of low birth weight and about 2-4 times more likely to die at birth than are babies born to non-Indigenous mothers.
  • Indigenous people are about 2-3 times more likely to be hospitalised than would be expected if they had the same hospitalisation rates as Australians overall.
  • Indigenous people experienced a higher death rate than non-Indigenous people at every age, but the largest gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous death rates was among adults aged 25-54 years, when death rates were about 6-8 times higher.

Health Risk Factors
  • Smoking is about twice as common among Indigenous people compared with non-Indigenous people, and Indigenous people have higher rates of illness and death from causes linked to smoking.
  • Although Indigenous Australians are more likely to abstain from drinking alcohol than are their counterparts in the general population (33 per cent versus 45 per cent current regular drinkers), those who do drink are more likely to drink at unsafe levels than those in the general population (79 per cent of current drinkers compared to 12 per cent).

Welfare Services

  • The rates of substantiated notifications to State/Territory welfare authorities of child abuse and neglect are higher for Indigenous children than for non-Indigenous children, with the rates 2-3 times higher for physical, emotional and sexual abuse, and almost 6 times higher for neglect.
  • The poor health experienced by many Indigenous people makes them more likely to need access to aged care at younger ages than is the case for non-Indigenous people.
  • The proportion of adults employed as community service workers was about twice as high among Indigenous people (2.1 per cent) as for non-Indigenous people (0.9 per cent) in 1991. The opposite was true for health-related occupations (0.8 per cent of Indigenous adults versus 2.1 per cent of non-Indigenous adults).

  • Indigenous households are about twice as likely as other Australian households to be in need of housing assistance. Almost 4 in 10 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.
  • Indigenous people were much less likely than non-Indigenous people to be home-owners. Only 25 per cent of Indigenous people lived in homes that were owned or being purchased by their occupants, compared with 71 per cent of Australians overall.

Income, employment and education
  • Indigenous people and households had low annual incomes, and a high proportion of Indigenous people reported that they received their main source of income from government payments. Indigenous people were less likely than non-Indigenous people to have post-secondary school qualifications, putting them at a disadvantage with respect to the employment opportunities which do exist.

Torres Strait Islanders
  • Torres Strait Islanders rated their health as slightly better and were less likely to report having a range of health conditions than were Aboriginal people. Despite recent declines, death rates for people living in the Torres Strait Area remained higher than for all Queenslanders, with the main causes of excess deaths being diabetes and heart disease. Torres Strait Islanders are more likely to be overweight or obese than are Aboriginal people.