Australia has, over the years emerged as one of the leading economies in the global scenario, performing impressively in almost all the aspects of social welfare. With an annual GDP of AUS 1.69 trillion (2017), Australia is currently the second wealthiest country in the world, when measured in terms of adult wealth. In terms of education, heath, employment and other indicators of welfare also, the country shows impressive trends, in an overall framework. However, there are several issues in the country, which have been persisting for long and have been concerning for the governing authorities of the country. One of the primary issues in this aspect is the presence of huge inequality and disparity between the overall conditions of living of the non-indigenous people of the country and the indigenous people in Australia (Donato & Segal 2013).
Indigenous Australians mean mainly the Aboriginal people and the Torres Strait Islander people of the country. The indigenous people mainly are the successors of the group of people who inhabited in the country before the colonization of British took place in the country. These people have been consistently living in a condition, which is strikingly different and inferior to that of the general living conditions of the Non-Indigenous people of the country, who forms the majority of the population of the country.
There exists significant “gap” or inequalities between the Indigenous and the Non-Indigenous residents of the country in terms health conditions, life expectancy, education levels and employment, in numbers and in the quality and the nature of employment.
The most common and conventional method of analyzing the overall health conditions of people of a region and disparities in the same is by measuring the Body Mass Index of the people. In case of the Non-Indigenous and Indigenous Australians, the BMI trends can be seen from the following figure:
Figure 1: Comparison of the Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians in terms of each of BMI categories
(Source: Smh.com.au 2017)
As is evident from the above figure, the Indigenous people score more than the Non-Indigenous ones in the Underweight and Obese categories, while the reverse is the case in Normal and Overweight BMI categories. Both the categories, in which the Indigenous people are more in number, are two of the worst criteria of BMI. Obesity in the Indigenous people is the main reason behind the increasing heart and kidney diseases, complications in pregnancy, breathing problems and other complicates health issues (Markiewicz 2012).
Empirical evidences show that the possibility for hospitalization of Indigenous Australians are four times more for chronic diseases than the Non-Indigenous ones and the disability rates (2012) of the former are 1.7 times higher than the latter. The mental health conditions of the Aboriginals and the Torres Strait Islanders are also at high risk, which is indicated, in the higher suicide and self –harming tendencies of the same, the rates continually increasing with time (Karmel et al. 2014).
eThe inequality is even more prominent between the Indigenous and the Non-Indigenous Australians when measured in terms of the differences in the life expectancies of these two sectors of the population of the country. As can be seen from the recent empirical evidences, the infant mortality rate of the Indigenous children has been nearly double than that of the same of their Non-Indigenous counterparts (Durey & Thompson 2012). While there were only 3.7 infant deaths per 1000 live births among the Non-Indigenous ones, the same amounted to as high as 6.2 infant deaths in case of the Indigenous Australians. The life expectancy of the Non-Indigenous females (2010-2012) was seen to be 84.3 years while that for the Indigenous ones was as low as 73.7 years. The gap was found to be even large for men, with the life expectancy of Non-indigenous men being 79.9 years while the same for Indigenous ones was 69.1 years. In some of the age groups, the death rates of the Indigenous Australians were found to be five times higher than the same for their Non-Indigenous parts. The maternal death rates of the Indigenous females were also strikingly three times higher than the Non-Indigenous ones (Shepherd, Li & Zubrick 2012).
There not only exists gap in terms of health conditions among the Non-Indigenous and the Indigenous Australians but there also exists huge disparity among the two concerned groups in terms of education and basic awareness generation.
Figure 2: Comparison of the levels of education of the Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people (15 years and above) in percentages
(Source: Smh.com.au 2017)
The above figure shows that the Indigenous Australians lag behind significantly in all the categories or levels of education than the Non-Indigenous residents of the country. The gap is specifically higher in the categories of 12 years completion, completion of university and other qualifications. The data for the time period 2012-2013, shows that while 86-88% of the Non-Indigenous Australians (falling in the age group of 20-24 years) completed year 12 of education, the proportion is shockingly low (59%) for their Indigenous counterparts (Vass 2012). This shows that there does exist a strikingly huge gap in all the levels of education among the Indigenous and the Non-Indigenous population of the country. This is both shocking as well as concerning, given the fact that the country is one of the most developed ones in the global scenario and most of the welfare indicators of the country, in an overall framework have been consistently showing impressive trends and development.
It is evident from the inequalities present in the heath and the education sector, between the Indigenous and the Non-Indigenous people of the country, that there will also be a considerable gap in the employment scenario of the same.
Figure 3: Comparison of the status of employment (In percentages) between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians
(Source: Smh.com.au 2017)
The above figure shows that the level of unemployment is significantly high in both the female and male Indigenous Australians and the quality of jobs, which they do, are also visibly inferior than the jobs done by their Non-Indigenous counterparts (Biddle & Taylor 2012).
From the above discussion and the empirical evidences provided, it is clearly seen that there are significant evidences supporting the existence of what is known as a “gap” in the overall welfare and quality of life of the Indigenous and the Non-Indigenous Australians. With the gap and the constituting inequalities continuously growing, it becomes one of the primary issues of importance and addressing the same is of utmost importance. Without closing the gap between the two sectors of the population of the same country, it is not possible to increase the overall welfare of the society, which may have severe negative implications on the long term sustainability of the fruits of development which the country has been enjoying (Hall & Patrinos 2012).
The gap between the Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians in the different welfare indicators, including health, education, employment and others have been a persisting issue of concern among the governing authorities of the country. Given this fact, immediate addressing of the situation is of utmost importance as the inequalities in all the aspects (supported by the empirical evidences) has been and is still contributing massively to the sufferings of the Indigenous people of the country.
Biddle, N & Taylor, J 2012, Demographic consequences of the ‘Closing the gap’indigenous policy in Australia. Population Research and Policy Review, 31(4), 571-585.
Donato, R & Segal, L 2013, Does Australia have the appropriate health reform agenda to close the gap in Indigenous health?. Australian Health Review, 37(2), 232-238.
Durey, A & Thompson 2012, Reducing the health disparities of Indigenous Australians: time to change focus. BMC health services research, 12(1), 151.
Hall, G. H & Patrinos, H. A. (Eds.) 2012, Indigenous peoples, poverty, and development. Cambridge University Press.
Karmel, T, Misko, J, Blomberg, D, Bednarz, A & Atkinson, G 2014, Improving Labour Market Outcomes through Education and Training. Issues Paper No. 9. Produced for the Closing the Gap Clearinghouse. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
Markiewicz, A 2012, Closing the gap through respect, relevance, reciprocity and responsibility: Issues in the evaluation of programs for Indigenous communities in Australia. Evaluation Journal of Australasia, 12(1), 19.
Shepherd, C. C, Li, J & Zubrick, S. R 2012, Social gradients in the health of Indigenous Australians. American journal of public health, 102(1), 107-117.
Smh.com.au, F 2017, Indigenous disadvantage in health and education persists: Closing the Gap report. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 12 November 2017, from https://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/australia-failing-to-close-the-gap-between-indigenous-and-nonindigenous-people-20160209-gmq15x.html
Vass, G 2012, ‘So, what is wrong with Indigenous education?’Perspective, position and power beyond a deficit discourse. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 41(2), 85-96.