Can human rights discourse improve the health of indigenous australians?

N Gray, Ross Stewart Bailie

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Objective: Recognition of the poor health outcomes of Indigenous Australians has led to an interest in using human rights discourse as a framework for arguing that the Australian Government has an international obligation to improve Indigenous health. Method: This paper explores two potential directions for human rights discourse in this context. The first is the development and elaboration of an asserted 'human right to health'. The second focuses on developing an understanding of the interactions between health and human rights, particularly the underlying social determinants of health, and thereby creating an advocacy framework that could be used to promote the inclusion of human rights considerations into the policy-making agenda. Results: This paper argues that despite the symbolic force of human rights discourse, its capacity to improve the health of Indigenous Australians through international law is limited. This is so irrespective of whether recourse is made to a legal or moral imperative. Conclusion and Implications: The 'human right to health' is limited primarily by several barriers to its implementation, some of which are perpetuated by the current Australian Government itself. Although the potential advocacy capacity of human rights discourse is similarly limited by the hostility of the Government towards the notion of incorporating human rights considerations into its public policy decision making, it does provide a sustainable intellectual framework in which to consider the social and structural determinants of health and maintain these issues on the political agenda.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)448-452
    Number of pages5
    JournalAustralian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - 2006


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