Australian PM tells Aboriginals to help themselves

On average, Aboriginal men die 11.5 years younger than non-Aboriginals.

Last Updated: Feb 11, 2011, 16:10 PM IST

Sydney: Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Wednesday urged Aboriginals to take more responsibility for improving their notoriously poor living standards, warning government progress had been slow.

Gillard, presenting an annual report on Australia`s indigenous people, said it would be "extremely challenging" to meet the core target of markedly improving their life expectancy within a generation.

She stressed that deep cultural changes were needed "to break the cycle of blame between Australian governments and indigenous Australia", adding that lives would only improve through greater "personal responsibility".

Gillard unveiled the report three years after her predecessor, Kevin Rudd, made a historic apology to Aborigines for abuses suffered under successive governments since white settlement began in 1788.

"Indigenous people know that when the child starts attending school, when the drinker stops abusing alcohol, when the adult takes the job that is there, then change begins," she told Parliament.

"And indigenous people know these decisions are not made by governments. They are made by people."

Gillard said Canberra was on track to meet two of six "ambitious" goals set in the 2008 apology to indigenous Australians, the nation`s most disadvantaged minority.

She expressed confidence that the gap would be halved in infant mortality for Aborigines by 2018, and that all four-year-olds in remote areas would have access to nursery education by 2013.

Aboriginal children are twice as likely to die before the age of five than children in the broader Australian community.

Gillard also said there had been "improvement" towards another three of the six goals: improving literacy and numeracy, school completion and employment.

"With faster improvement over time, we believe these can be reached," Gillard said.

But she warned that the final target, halving the life expectancy gap by 2031, would be "most challenging of all" and progress was yet to be measured.

On average, Aboriginal men die 11.5 years younger than non-Aboriginals, while for women the gap is 9.7 years.

"It will be extremely challenging," the Prime Minister said.

Aborigines, whose cultures stretch back tens of thousands of years, are believed to have numbered around one million at the time of white settlement, but there are now just 470,000 out of a total population of 22 million.

Bureau Report