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A number of initiatives to improve the quality and availability of data about Indigenous Australians have been implemented in the last few years. Progress to date has been substantial, but large gaps remain.
Perhaps the most important initiative has been the development of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Information Plan, which was commissioned by the Australian Health Ministersí Advisory Council in 1996. The Plan was finalised in 1997, following extensive consultation with a broad range of stakeholders. It includes recommendations in three broad areas: the development of an appropriate infrastructure for the collection and maintenance of Indigenous data; technical improvements required to support the collection of high quality statistics on Indigenous health; and effective national leadership and coordination to progress issues and strategies across all jurisdictions. Lack of national leadership was recognised as a critical problem in the many previous attempts to improve Indigenous statistics, and the Plan was therefore subtitled "...This time letís make it happen". A lead agency has been assigned for each of the Planís 42 recommendations, and progress is being monitored regularly. Data development activities have subsequently begun in other areas, such as housing, disability and community services. (Copies of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Information Plan are available from the National Centre for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Statistics. Send a request by email to:firstname.lastname@example.org).
A related initiative has been the development of performance indicators for Indigenous health. All jurisdictions have agreed to report regularly on a series of indicators in a variety of areas such as health status, risk factors, health services, workforce, community development, and so on. When adequate data are not available, jurisdictions have agreed to report on what they are doing to improve the availability and quality of data. This process has helped to generate increased support for implementing the recommendations of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Information Plan.
More recently, the Australian Bureau of Statistics has developed a new strategy to enhance its Indigenous statistical collections. A copy of the strategy is available on-line by clicking the hyperlink on the slide.