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Equity and equality aren’t the same

In Australia, we talk a lot about equality, but that’s only one piece of the puzzle when the playing field is uneven. Let's explore further.

Trying to solve inequality assumes we all have the same opportunities and experiences. The reality is that Australia’s First Peoples continued experiences with racism makes this untrue. Only when we begin to address inequity can the playing field be truly levelled (Decuir & Dixson, 2004, p. 29).

Let’s explore further.


Equality relates to ‘sameness’. It promotes fairness and justice by working to provide everyone with the same thing. The problem is, equality can only work if everyone starts from the same place.


Equity relates to fairness. It is about making sure people get access to the same opportunities. Sometimes our differences and our history creates barriers to participation. This means we must first ensure equity before we can enjoy equality.

Image visually represents the difference between equality and equity Interaction Institute for Social Change Artist: Angus Maguire

Inequities and inequalities in health

The health and wellbeing of Australia’s First Peoples continues to be influenced by colonial policies and practices. While advances in medicine have improved the health of Australians over recent decades, the health of Australia’s First Peoples hasn’t improved at the same rate.

The World Health Organisation (2016) defines health inequalities as the ‘difference in health status or in the distribution of health determinants between different population groups’. It recognises that some determinants of health are ‘unnecessary and avoidable, as well as unjust and unfair’, resulting in health inequalities and inequities (WHO, 2016).

This concept of ‘unfairness’ is central to understanding ‘inequity’. When it comes to socially disadvantaged groups, such as Australia’s First Peoples, racism and discrimination hinders access to opportunities to pursue health (Taylor & Guerin, 2014). And that’s not OK.

Inequity has a long history for First Peoples

The inequalities and inequities we continue to see in the health status of First Peoples is representative of the bigger picture relating to their lack of human rights in Australia. The fight for equality, equity and cultural recognition continues to be overlooked.

For example, did you know that Australia’s First Peoples are not recognised in Australia’s constitution? Did you know that Australia is the only Commonwealth nation that doesn’t have a treaty with its Indigenous people? If you’re not sure what a treaty is, in this context, it’s an agreement between Indigenous peoples and governments.

The Australian Constitution

When the Australian Constitution was being drafted, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were excluded from the discussions concerning the creation of a new nation to be situated on their ancestral lands and territories. The Australian Constitution also expressly discriminated against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The Australian Constitution did not – and still does not – make adequate provision for Australia’s first peoples…it has failed to protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights as the first peoples of this country (Australian Human Rights Commission, ND).

It’s a human rights issue

Watch the UN Declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples. It’s an informative video highlighting the significant steps forward in recognising Australia’s First Peoples’ rights, but also the setbacks in the past three decades. First Peoples have the right to culture and identity.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

One of the best ways Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can help bring about positive change is by using the language of rights when talking about the issues in their communities. Using the Declaration reminds all levels of government of what these rights are.

Since 2016, the Victorian Government has been working with Aboriginal Victorians towards Australia’s first treaty. The Uluru Statement from the Heart is the most current issue in Indigenous affairs, calling for the establishment of a First Nations Voice in the Australian Constitution and a Makarrata Commission.

Listen to the audio link to hear Professor Gregory Phillips talk about the Constitution of Australia and his thoughts on the recent proposal of a treaty for Australia’s First Peoples.

Listen to Professor Gregory Phillips

Your task

Did you already know that First Peoples continue to remain unrecognised in the constitution? How comfortable are you with this, from a human rights perspective? Share your thoughts and comments with the group.


Australian Human Rights Commission (ND). Constitutional Reform: Fact Sheet – Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People in the constitution.

Decuir, J.T. & Dixson, A.D. (2004). So when it comes out, they aren’t that surprised that it is there: Using critical race theory as a tool of analysis of race and racism in education. Educational Researcher, 33(5), 26-31.

Taylor, K. & Guerin, P. (2014). Health Care and Indigenous Australians. South Yarra, Australia: Macmillan Education Australia

World Health Organisation (WHO). (2016). Health Inequality and Inequity.

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Safer Healthcare for Australia's First Peoples

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