The health of Aborigines lags almost 100 years behind other Australians and they are the sickest indigenous people of all the wealthy nations, a report by the World Health Organization says.
The report into indigenous health worldwide found Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders had significantly worse results than non-indigenous people on every health indicator, resulting in an average life expectancy 17 years below that of white Australians and an average age of death of just 33 for Aboriginal males in some parts of NSW.
Some Aborigines still suffer from leprosy, rheumatic heart disease and tuberculosis, which were banished from the White population decades ago, says the report, compiled by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and presented to the WHO's Commission on the Social Determinants of Indigenous Health in Adelaide.
"On many indicators, [indigenous] health now remains unacceptably lower and at levels experienced nearly a century ago by our non-indigenous peers," said Dr Lisa Jackson Pulver, of the University of NSW's Indigenous Health Unit, co-author of the chapter on Australia and New Zealand.
Progress would not be made until the Government publicly acknowledged the role of Aborigines' "stress, alienation, discrimination and lack of control" in creating poor indigenous health, the authors wrote.
"Prime Minister Howard refers to the recognition of past wrongs as the black armband view of history, for which he is unwilling to say sorry. His government favors 'practical reconciliation' as an approach, claiming this will lead to better outcomes. It is acknowledged by the government that Aboriginal Australians have poorer health, educational, employment and social outcomes, however the solutions that are to address these issues have little to do with the underlying causes … a combination of material deprivation and psycho-social stressors related to stress, alienation, discrimination and lack of control."
The Greens senator Rachel Siewert said Aboriginal health was an international scandal, and an injection of about $500 million a year was needed in the next federal budget to deal with it.
The Minister for Health, Tony Abbott, said the gap was "something which no one can be happy about but if it were easy to tackle it would have been tackled a long time ago. It's all very well to talk about formal apologies but I think indigenous people and the general population are much more interested in seeing better practical outcomes than in gestures, however meaningful those gestures might be to some".