Indigenous Groups Urge Commitment to PMs Closing the Gap
13 February 2014 at 11:11 am
Indigenous peak bodies have welcomed Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s commitment to stronger efforts to Close the Gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.
They have also urged the PM to back his words by resourcing targeted services and empowering local communities.
Abbott delivered an impassioned speech about the status of the Federal Closing the Gap campaign to a joint sitting of both Houses of Federal Parliament yesterday, saying that for him, Aboriginal policy has become personal rather than just political.
The report card showed mixed results since the campaign’s inception in 2008.
Abbott said that while a small number of targets are on track, the campaign is failing to achieve significant targets in Indigenous disadvantage. He announced a new target to close the gap to close the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous school attendance within five years.
"Our job is to break the tyranny of low expectations," he said.
According to the Closing the Gap report, targets to halve the gap in child mortality within a decade, halve the gap in year-12 attainment rates by 2020, and have 95 per cent of remote children enrolled in preschool are on track. However, Abbott said there has been almost no progress in closing the life expectancy gap and very little improvement in literacy.
"And Indigenous employment, I deeply regret to say, has, if anything, slipped backwards over the past few years," he said. "So we are not on track to achieve the more important and the more meaningful targets. Because it's hard to be literate and numerate without attending school.”
The report revealed that progress in closing the gap in literacy has improved in only Year 3 and Year 5 Reading (based on NAPLAN results) and that only 30 per cent of Indigenous adults in remote areas are employed in a mainstream job.
Stronger steps will be needed to achieve the campaign’s main priority of closing the gap on life expectancy by 2031. No progress has been made on the employment target, and little improvement has been recorded in reading, writing and numeracy.
ANTaR, an independent, national network supporting justice, rights and respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia, welcomed the delivery of the Closing the Gap report by the Prime Minister and called for strong action to build on existing nationally coordinated efforts.
ANTaR National President Dr Peter Lewis, said “Close the Gap is a generational challenge that requires concerted, long term action that builds on the gains that are starting to emerge.
“We are beginning to see improvements in child mortality, lower rates of smoking, and a small improvement in life expectancy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We must grab these with both hands and build on them.” Lewis said.
ANTaR joined with its Close the Gap campaign partners to call on the government to renew the National Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap in Indigenous Health Outcomes and the development of a National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health plan .
“The renewal of this Agreement as the fuel that drives the Health Plan is critical to building on the gains made to date,” Lewis said. “Closing the more than a decade life expectancy gap is a generational commitment and continued effort in these areas is needed if we are to see health equality by 2030.”
The Close the Gap Campaign Steering Committee released its ‘Progress and Priorities’ report this week, setting out a full range of actions government needs to take to prioritise and drive action to Close the Gap. Included in the Committee’s list of actions is a call for a new target to address high incarceration rates.
“There are Aboriginal children alive today who would not be alive without Close the Gap and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women making healthy lifestyle choices, like giving up smoking that will extend their life expectancy. We must build on the platform in place to ensure further progress,” Lewis said. “This is the time to strengthen the effort to Close the Gap.”
The Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Care (SNAICC) again called for long-term funding certainty for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled early childhood services, following the Prime Minister’s Closing the Gap report.
SNAICC said Indigenous community-controlled early childhood services must be supported to play a pivotal role in assisting families and improving the educational outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children – given that the critical phase of development in children occurs before they go to school.
SNAICC urged the Australian Government to commit to a 10-year funding model for the 300 Indigenous community-controlled early childhood services across Australia, which face an uncertain funding future beyond June 2014.
These services include long day care centres, out of school hours care services, Multifunctional Aboriginal Children’s Services (MACS) and the 38 new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child and family centres (ACFCs).
SNAICC has developed a cost-effective proposal that calls for existing allocations to be redirected to provide the same funding levels to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children as are provided to other children in Australia.
SNAICC’s proposal looks to secure sustainable levels of funding for evidence based Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services for the next 10 years, and calls for the creation of 40 new community-controlled services across Australia every three years.
The program proposal has been endorsed by key organisations in the early childhood sector and Indigenous peak and representative agencies, as well as Professor Deb Brennan, a leading early childhood expert.
In a paper commissioned by SNAICC, titled Joining the Dots, Brennan found the services provided holistic, community-led programs for ATSI children that “address a wide range of physical, social, emotional and learning needs — far wider than the needs in mainstream early education and care services.”
Professor Brennan found a low participation rate by ATSI families in the mainstream child care and early childhood education system— even though they are a priority target for services.
Only around 2 per cent of 0-5 year olds who participate in Commonwealth approved early years services are ATSI children, even though they represent more than twice that proportion (4.7%) in the community.
Earlier this month, the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples congratulated the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, for reaching a negotiated arrangement with local Indigenous leaders to get kids to school in northeast Arnhem Land.
However, the Congress stressed the need for the agreement to go further and allow local communities to design and plan their own ways to increase school attendance.
“In the past decade, policy has focused on the roles and responsibilities of parents and schools specifically on getting our kids to school,” Congress Co-Chair Les Malezer said. “However, we believe education is a two way relationship – schools and the education system meeting the needs of communities and students; and communities and parents meeting committing to attendance and achievement.”
The Closing the Gap campaign aims to address areas such as life expectancy, education and unemployment, and aims to breach the divide between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians by 2030.