Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 251-263

First online:

Reconciliation and Australian Indigenous Health in the 1990s: A Failure of Public Policy

  • Andrew GunstoneAffiliated withCentre for Australian Indigenous Studies, School of Humanities, Communications and Social Sciences, Monash University Email author 

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In 1991, the Australian Commonwealth Parliament unanimously passed the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation Act 1991. This Act implemented a 10-year process that aimed to reconcile Indigenous and non-Indigenous people by the end of 2000. One of the highest priorities of the reconciliation process was to address Indigenous socio-economic disadvantage, including health, education and housing. However, despite this prioritising, both the Keating Government (1991–1996) and the Howard Government (1996–2000) failed to substantially improve socio-economic outcomes for Indigenous people over the reconciliation decade. In this paper, I examine one of the most prominent socio-economic areas, that of Indigenous health. First, I discuss the appalling levels of Indigenous health throughout the reconciliation decade by analysing a number of health indicators, including life expectancy, infant mortality rate, standard mortality ratios, hospital rates and health Infrastructure. This analysis reveals significant and often worsening disadvantage in these health indicators. Second, I analyse a number of policies and programs concerning Indigenous socio-economic disadvantage that were developed by Commonwealth Governments in the 1990s. I argue that these policies and programs largely failed to address Indigenous socio-economic disadvantage. I also discuss alternative policies and programs that could reduce the significant levels of socio-economic disadvantage suffered by Indigenous people.


Australian Indigenous people Reconciliation Health Public policy