Example 5: Campaign for indigenous health equality in Australia

Example 5: Campaign for indigenous health
equality in Australia 

Project: Advocacy


The Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) was created by law in 1986. The position of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner was created within the HREOC in 1993 with the intent to advance the rights of indigenous peoples through reporting and research.

In 2005, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner released a report including a chapter on indigenous health inequality in Australia. The chapter outlines a human rights based campaign for achieving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health equality within a generation. This resulted in the creation of a coalition on Aboriginal Health called “Close the Gap” in 2006. Close the Gap is a coalition of indigenous and non-indigenous health and human rights organizations who are working in the Australian government to improve health equality for indigenous populations. The group is led by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner.


Indigenous peoples in Australia experience unequal access to the right to health. The average Australian woman is expected to live 82 years, while an indigenous woman can expect to live only 64.8 years. The Social Justice Report provides further evidence of the inequality in health outcomes for indigenous peoples.

The report recognizes that the inequality in health status of indigenous people is linked to systemic discrimination. Indigenous people have restricted access to health services as well as inadequate health infrastructure in some communities, including safe drinking water, proper sewage systems, garbage collection, and adequate housing.

“It is not credible to suggest that one of the wealthiest nations in the world cannot solve a health crisis affecting less than three per cent of its citizens.”

— Tom Calma
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Social Justice Report 2005

Actions Taken

The Social Justice Report 2005 discusses the health inequities among indigenous people and the current policy approach and proposes an approach to achieving health equality for Indigenous people within a generation. Based upon this proposed human rights-based approach to health equality, a coalition was formed to realize the goals of the approach by 2030 – Close the Gap campaign.

Close the Gap adopted the goals from the 2005 report and has moved forward to develop partnerships with indigenous peoples as well as government officials and NGOs. The campaign is pushing to develop a National Plan with concrete targets that the government would be committed to achieving.

Results and Lessons Learned

Close the Gap has made some impressive inroads since its inception in 2006. In 2008, they held a National Indigenous Health Equality Summit, during which the former prime minister and opposition leader signed the Close the Gap Statement of Intent. When the government signed the National Partnership Agreement, it also pledged $1.6 billion dollars to the effort. In addition, Close the Gap secured about $5 billion in additional resources with seven additional National Partnership Agreements.

In July 2008, the Close the Gap National Indigenous Health Equality Targets were published and presented to the Federal Health Minister. Developed by a range of experts, the Health Equality Targets aimed to provide a framework of priorities and key indicators of progress towards health equality. The government also agreed to make an annual report to parliament on its progress, beginning in 2009. The Close the Gap campaign has provided shadow reports to the annual report, providing their assessment of the government’s progress

In addition to partnerships with the government and NGOs, Close the Gap has also developed significant public outreach and participation efforts. There is now an annual National Close the Gap Day in Australia with activities and events, where in 2012, 130,000 Australians participated. There is also a public Close the Gap pledge.

In late 2011, these developments culminated in emergence of the National Health Leadership Forum (NHLF). While linked to the Close the Gap Campaign, the NHLF functions independently and was created with a specific purpose – to serve as an interface for government to partner with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their organizations in the development and implementation of health policy that affects these populations.

Additional Resources

Close the Gap: Campaign for Indigenous Health Equality

Close the Gap: Oxfam Australia (Links to Close the Gap Pledge and National Close the Gap Day)

Social Justice Report 2005 – Chapter 2: Achieving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health equality within a generation – A human rights based approach

National Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap in Indigenous Health Outcomes Implementation Plan: www.health.gov.au/internet/main/Publishing.nsf/Content/closinggap-tacklingchronicdisease/$File/commonwealth_implementation_plan.pdf

Close the Gap Community Guide: http://humanrights.gov.au/social_Justice/health/ctg_community.pdf