Close The Gap Report: First People Then And Now

Close The Gap Report: First People Then And Now


The findings of the 9th Annual Close The Gap Report are a sobering reminder that so much more has to be done in Australia to achieve equality for Indigenous Australians. Only one of seven targets set down to improve Indigenous health, education and unemployment outcomes are on track.


Aboriginal flag

The Report was handed down by Prime Minister Turnbull in the Australian Parliament on 14 February 2017.

Progress has been very slow.

Far too high are incarceration rates, domestic violence and rates of child protection. The target of halving the gap on Indigenous child mortality is not on track.

Targets in mortality rates and health, employment and reading, writing and numeracy are not being met. The only success reported is Indigenous Year 12 attainment.

Senator Malarndirri McCarthy commenting on the Closing the Gap report handed down by the Prime Minister says, “We need a new approach – an approach that listens to first Australians, gives them a stronger voice that they control, and recognises that they have the solutions”.(

In 2008 the Australian Government made a commitment to Close The Gap in Australian Indigenous disadvantage in terms of health, education and socio-economic conditions.

The “gap” refers to the inequality between Indigenous Australians and non-Indigenous people. In particular, the gap refers to life expectancy, infant mortality, health status and levels of education and employment.


First People Then And NowFrom 1788, Australian Indigenous cultures experienced the full brunt of British occupation of their lands and underwent the dispossession of their cultures. What started in eastern Australia was repeated throughout the continent.

There was no discussion with the first people, their lands were occupied and tragedy continued to unfold.

Before the invasion by the British, Australia’s first people had defined territories and knew the boundaries of their traditional lands. They knew its physical features, its geography, animals, birds, fish and plants.

They looked after their lands and ritually cared for their country with ceremonies, songs, stories and art.

But with the invasion and the taking over of traditional lands for farming, Australian Aboriginal cultures were almost destroyed. They fought to defend their country from the North to the South and from the East to the West.

The Aboriginal population decreased with the killings and introduced European diseases.

With the taking and occupation of ancestral lands, most Aboriginal Australians were reduced to poverty and ill-health unknown before 1788. The “affluent” lifestyle of the past was over.

Before the British took over the lands, the lifestyle of the first people, their traditional access to the land, and its resources and their own traditional medicine, ensured that they were relatively free of the health problems that now beset them.

Australia’s first people have suffered extremely poor health since the British occupied traditional lands. The disease was rife. Diseases experienced by Indigenous Australians were almost unknown among non-Indigenous Australians.

Over the past three decades, the government has tried various policies and programs to improve the poor level of health of Indigenous Australians but the policies have failed.

While Canada, the United States and New Zealand have managed to lift the health standards in their Indigenous communities since the 1980s, Australia’s Indigenous people suffer a worsening health crisis.(

The fact remains that Australian Indigenous health remains a national disgrace and an international embarrassment.

c. Marji Hill