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Open Access Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 37(2)

Does Australia have the appropriate health reform agenda to close the gap in Indigenous health?

Ronald Donato A C and Leonie Segal B

A School of Commerce and Centre for Regulation and Market Analysis, GPO Box 2471, Adelaide, SA 5001, Australia.
B Health Economics and Social Policy Group, School of Nursing and Midwifery, University of South Australia, GPO Box 2471, Adelaide, SA 5001, Australia. Email: leonie.segal@unisa.edu.au
C Corresponding author. Email: ronald.donato@unisa.edu.au

Australian Health Review 37(2) 232-238 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/AH12186
Submitted: 7 June 2012  Accepted: 10 September 2012   Published: 1 February 2013

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This paper provides an analysis of the national Indigenous reform strategy – known as Closing the Gap – in the context of broader health system reforms underway to assess whether current attempts at addressing Indigenous disadvantage are likely to be successful. Drawing upon economic theory and empirical evidence, the paper analyses key structural features necessary for securing system performance gains capable of reducing health disparities. Conceptual and empirical attention is given to the features of comprehensive primary healthcare, which encompasses the social determinants impacting on Indigenous health. An important structural prerequisite for securing genuine improvements in health outcomes is the unifying of all funding and policy responsibilities for comprehensive primary healthcare for Indigenous Australians within a single jurisdictional framework. This would provide the basis for implementing several key mutually reinforcing components necessary for enhancing primary healthcare system performance. The announcement to introduce a long-term health equality plan in partnership with Aboriginal people represents a promising development and may provide the window of opportunity needed for implementing structural reforms to primary healthcare.

What is known about the topic? Notwithstanding the intention of previous policies, considerable health disparity exists between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Australia has now embarked on its most ambitious national Indigenous health reform strategy, but there has been little academic analysis of whether such reforms are capable of eliminating health disadvantage for Aboriginal people.

What does the paper add? This paper provides a critical analysis of Indigenous health reforms to assess whether such policy initiatives are likely to be successful and outlines key structural changes to primary healthcare system arrangements that are necessary to secure genuine system performance gains and improve health outcomes for Indigenous Australians.

What are the implications for practitioners? For policymakers, the need to establish genuine partnership and engagement between Aboriginal people and the Australian government in pursuing a national Indigenous reform agenda is of critical importance. The establishment of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples provides the opportunity for policymakers to give special status to Indigenous Australians in health policy development and create the institutional breakthrough necessary for effecting primary healthcare system change.


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