In 2008 Australian Governments committed to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people on an incredibly important task - to achieve equality in health status and life expectancy between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous Australians by the year 2031. The commitment – in the form of the Close the Gap Statement of Intent – creates the platform for this National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan, which has been developed in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their representatives.

This Health Plan provides a long-term, evidence-based policy framework as part of the overarching Council of Australian Governments’ (COAG) approach to Closing the Gap in Indigenous disadvantage, which has been set out in the National Indigenous Reform Agreement (NIRA) signed in 2008. The NIRA has established a framework of national targets and policy building blocks. Two of the Closing the Gap targets, to halve the gap in child mortality by 2018 and close the life expectancy gap by 2031, go directly to health outcomes, while others address social determinants of health such as education and employment.

The Health Plan builds on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It adopts a strengths-based approach to ensure policies and programs improve health, social and emotional wellbeing, and resilience and promote positive health behaviours. It emphasises the centrality of culture in the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the rights of individuals to a safe, healthy and empowered life. The Health Plan also builds on existing strategies and planning approaches to improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, outlined at Appendix A.

The Health Plan also aligns with other governments’ plans and strategies which support better health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, including the National Strategic Framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health (NSFATSIH) 2003-13. It will also link in with the other arrangements currently being negotiated or implemented, such as the renewing of the National Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap in Indigenous Health Outcomes.

The Health Plan is central to the Australian Government’s targeted approach to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can enjoy the same standard of health as other Australians. The 10-year life of this Health Plan comes at a critical time in ongoing efforts to close the gap, during which our collective efforts must be targeted to ensure the best outcomes can be realised.

To help achieve this, the Australian Government undertakes to:

  • continue working across governments and sectors to close the gap in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander disadvantage;
  • invest in making health systems accessible, culturally safe and appropriate, effective and responsive for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; and
  • support good health and wellbeing across the life course, and continue to target risk factors at key life stages.
The different stages of life provide strategic points of intersection between health, mental health and social and emotional wellbeing, and provide a patient-centred platform for different agencies, organisations, government, stakeholders and representative bodies to work together to plan and deliver better coordinated and focussed programs. The different life stages also provide an opportunity to focus on specific health priorities and reduce health inequalities at the point at which they are most likely to occur.

Sustained improvement to the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people requires system-level action across the health system and the social determinants of health.

Implementation of this Health Plan will ensure that progress towards health equality can be monitored over time. Implementation plans, subsequently developed, will set progress targets which will be aligned to established best practice and respond to new and emerging needs.

The Australian Government commits to developing a Commonwealth cross-sectoral implementation plan and will work with each state and territory government to develop implementation plans that align with the Commonwealth’s implementation plan. Individuals, families, communities and their representatives, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community controlled health organisations and mainstream health service providers are encouraged to align their strategic planning to the principles and priorities and publicly report on how their activities are achieving the goals and vision of this Health Plan.

The Australian Government further commits to public reporting on the Australian Government’s progress in meeting this Health Plan’s policy objectives, through a high-level annual report to the Australian Parliament and detailed biennial reporting through the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework (Health Performance Framework).