Aboriginal Health

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have significantly poorer health and lower life expectancy than other Australians. For the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population born in 2010–2012, life expectancy was estimated to be 10.6 years lower than that of the non-Aboriginal population for males (69.1 years compared with 79.7) and 9.5 years for females (73.7 compared with 83.1).

Between 2005–2007 and 2010–2012, Aboriginal life expectancy at birth for boys increased by 1.6 years and by 0.6 years for girls. Over the same period, the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal life expectancy narrowed by 0.8 years for males and 0.1 years for females (AIHW, 2017).

While there have been improvements in the health and well-being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in recent years, some long-standing challenges remain. Many factors contribute to the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal health. Social disadvantage, such as lower education and employment rates, is a factor, as well as higher smoking rates, poor nutrition, physical inactivity and poor access to health services.

PHAIWA works with many Aboriginal organisations and services to promote health and wellbeing, reduce stigma, upskill Aboriginal practitioners and produce community based outcomes.

PHAIWA Projects

Advocacy Targets

PHAIWA has established the health of Australian Aboriginal peoples as a priority. PHAIWA’s advocacy targets for Aboriginal Health are:

  •       Linking housing and health
    •    Advocating for improved training, employment, mentoring, support literacy/numeracy for the Aboriginal workforce
    •    Supporting introduction of the Public Health Bill to bind the Crown
    •    Building on successful local models & disseminate information
    •    Provide leadership, coordination & accountability in Aboriginal EH
    •    Addressing lifestyle risk factors to reduce the impact of chronic disease
    •    Promoting maternal health for mothers and their children

PHAIWA coordinate a range of projects in the area of Aboriginal health including:

Aboriginal Health and the Mainstream News Media: A toolkit for journalists

Curtin University, in association with Combined Universities Centre for Rural Health, Health Communications Resources Inc. and Healthway, has produced a toolkit for journalists entitled ‘Aboriginal Health and the Mainstream News Media’. To view this document please click here.

Important Resources

Assimilation and the Push to Close Communities

Solidarity Online has published an excellent article about the forced closure of Aboriginal communities. You can read it here.

June Oscar’s Presentation at Kings College London, 2015

June Oscar, the well-known Aboriginal advocate and Chief Executive Officer of Marninwarntikura Fitzroy Women’s Resource Centre at Fitzroy Crossing, presented at Kings College London on the 29 April 2015.

In 2011, in an article appearing in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, June was named as one of the 50 most influential women in the world for her work in improving the lives of those living in remote Aboriginal communities. Her presentation was titled ‘Encountering Truth: The Real Life Stories of Objects from Empire’s Frontier and Beyond’.

June Oscar’s Presentation at the National Suicide Prevention Conference, 2017

June Oscar’s latest presentation titled “Cultural Strength is Key to Suicide Prevention” which she delivered at the National Suicide Prevention Conference on 27 July 2017 can be read here.

Environmental Health Needs of Aboriginal Communities in WA

This report outlines the findings from a survey of discrete Aboriginal communities during late 2007 and through 2008, funded by the Environmental Health Coordinating Committee (EHNCC), the peak coordinating body in Aboriginal environmental health in WA. The survey was coordinated by the Environmental Health Needs Coordinating Committee and conducted by environmental health practitioners who work with, and in, discrete Aboriginal communities. Each of the participating communities was visited by environmental health practitioners in order to survey the infrastructure and collect information from community members. This information included levels of community satisfaction and concern with the provision of essential, municipal and allied services influencing and affecting environmental health.

The Report provides analysis on the 8 core environmental health indicators of:

Water, electricity, housing, solid waste disposal, sanitation, dust, dog health programs, emergency management.

To read the full report, click here.

To read press coverage of this report from The West Australian on May 15, please download from this link.

Important Partners


The Aboriginal Health Council of Western Australia (AHCWA) replaced the Western Australian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (WAACCHO) as the peak body representing 21 Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHSs) in Western Australia (WA).

It aims to:

  • Lead the development of Aboriginal health policy,
  • Influence and monitor performance across the health sector,
  • Advocate for and support community development and capacity building in Aboriginal communities,
  • Support the continued development of ACCHSs,
  • Build the workforce capacity to improve the health, social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal people in WA.

Where is the “roadmap” leading, for remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia?

The Western Australian Government recently released a “roadmap” for the future of the State’s regional and estimated 274 remote communities. This follows widespread concerns over the past 18 months about the threatened closure of some remote communities in WA.

The report, Resilient Families, Strong Communities, flags the WA Government’s intention to improve support and services to towns and larger communities, but that it “expects to support fewer communities over time, particularly as migration away from small outstations continues”.

It notes there are about 274 remote Aboriginal communities in WA, with an estimated total population of 12,000 Aboriginal residents. “By contrast, in Queensland there are only 18 remote communities with about 20,000 residents.”

The National Congress of Australia’s First People has raised concerns about the potential for the roadmap’s approach to cause harm to communities, families and cultures, as have others.

An online petition calls on the WA Premier to ensure Aboriginal communities are not forcibly closed and that Aboriginal people are not deterred from living in their communities due to inadequate provision of municipal and essential services. Robin Chapple, a Greens MLC, has introduced a Prevention of Forced Closure of Remote Aboriginal Communities Bill 2016 (available here).

In her article, Dr Melissa Stoneham, Deputy Director of the Public Health Advocacy Institute WA, gives an overview of the report and raises questions about the lack of representation of health expertise in the WA Government processes.

PHAIWA gets involved

The sun was shining. It was a beautiful Autumn day in Perth. A crew of five left PHAIWA on the train, headed for the SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA march to protest against the Barnett Government’s decision to close up to 150 remote Aboriginal communities. PHAIWA had been instrumental in drafting the Open Letter inviting health organisations to attend the rallies around Australia and the world, supported through Melissa Sweet at Croakey.

You can read the letter here.

We estimate that around 1500 people marched from Forrest Place to Parliament House. The largely calm but vocal crowd briefly stopped in the Perth Mall to hear a couple of speeches but then marched up St George’s Terrace to Parliament House.

When we arrived at Parliament house, Beds are Burning (Midnight Oil) was playing providing a great atmosphere for the speeches. Many passionate addresses were given with highlights for us being Tammy Solmenec from Amnesty Australia and Alannah MacTiernan MP, Member for Perth. A poignant moment was the raising of four Aboriginal flags at Parliament House as seen below.

It was a privilege for the PHAWA staff members to be at the rally, standing up for what we believe is a very important public health issue for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. For an overview of the tweets from rallies across the world, click here.