Australia's Aboriginal life expectancy gap widens

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia had failed to close the gap between the life expectancies of its Aboriginal and non-indigenous people and the difference is widening, a report released Thursday said.

While Aboriginal people are living longer than they did when efforts to eliminate the discrepancy began a decade ago, the life expectancy of the non-indigenous population is increasing faster, the report by indigenous leaders on the Close the Gap Campaign steering committee said.

The report, funded by poverty-focused charity Oxfam, blamed the lack of progress on government policy instability, a shortage of funding and government reluctance to include indigenous leaders in decision-making.

In 2008, newly elected Prime Minister Kevin Rudd promised to eliminate the gap in life expectancy between races by 2030. He also committed future governments to report annually on progress toward removing indigenous disadvantages in a range of key measures, with life expectancy the most important.

At the time, the difference in life expectancy was said to be 17 years. The gap was revised down the following year to 10 years and seven months, but not because of any drastic shift in inequality. The Australian Bureau of Statistics said it had improved its methodology for calculating the gap, and new figures could no longer be compared to past statistics.

In 2009, indigenous men lived on average until 67 years — 11-and-a-half-years less than other Australian men. Aboriginal women lived until 73 — 9 years and 8 months less than the rest of Australia's women.

The committee report released Thursday cited recent Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data that found by 2015 the longevity gap had extended by seven months in five years.

Tom Calma, a committee member, said part of the reason the strategy was failing was that the government had not consulted indigenous leaders on the targets or timeframes for closing the gap.

"If you judge the targets against the timeframes that were set, yes, there's a failure," Calma told reporters.

Calma also blamed political instability, with Australia replacing its prime minister four times since Rudd promised equality in life expectancy.

Pat Dodson, an indigenous leader and opposition senator, accused the government of treating indigenous leaders with derision and contempt through a lack of consultation.

"I'm absolutely frustrated with the lack of change, the lack of achievement, the lack of listening to what indigenous people have been saying," Dodson said. "They want a piece of the action. They want to be part of the deal."

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said his government was currently consulting with Aboriginal leaders and communities to set more extensive targets for indigenous advancement that also involve state governments.

"The proposition that the government is cutting funding for indigenous affairs is simply wrong," Turnbull told Parliament. "We are putting more resources into indigenous advancement all the time."

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