Australia Failing to Close the Gap
Thursday, 12th February 2015 at 10:14 am
Australia is failing in its attempts to close the gap of disadvantage between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, according to a major new bipartisan report.
The Closing the Gap report was released yesterday and revealed that the Australian Government is on track to achieve only two of its seven goals for improving the lives of Indigenous Australians.
It revealed that in the areas of improving life expectancy, education for Indigenous four-year-olds, reading, writing and numeracy rates and employment, the Government was either not on track or had not met its targets for improvement.
The goal of closing the gap in life expectancy by 2031 had made “limited progress” while progress on the goal to halve the gap in employment outcomes had gone backwards with a decline on the 2008 baseline.
The only targets that were on track to being achieved were halving the gap in mortality rates within a decade and halving the gap for Indigenous Australians aged 20-24 to have finished year 12 or an equivalent.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the results of the report proved that Australia had failed.
“We know that until Indigenous people fully participate in the life of our country, all of us are diminished. On days such as this, we should acknowledge where we have failed,” Abbott said.
“This is not because of any lack of goodwill or effort by successive Governments.
“We are trying to change entrenched and multigenerational disadvantage.
“This won’t happen overnight and it may not ever happen unless we continue to place high demands on ourselves of what we can achieve together.
“When I presented this report last year, I also noted that for every step backwards, there could be two steps forward.”
But Abbott also said that part of the onus for closing the gap would fall on Indigenous people themselves.
“Government programs can be a catalyst but success – where it is achieved – is due to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who want better for themselves,” he said.
“Governments can fund and Governments can urge but Governments can’t change attitudes and behaviours.
“It’s those who make the choice to send their children to school, those who make the choice to attend school (and stick at it), those who make the choice to get a job and stick at it and those who choose to abide by the law who are the ones closing the gap.
“Closing the Gap is not something that Canberra can do on its own. Closing the Gap is not something to be granted by this Parliament to Indigenous Australians.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said more needed to be done, particularly when it came to violence against Indigenous women, who he said were thirty-five times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of family violence.
But Shorten’s comments about cuts to funding for Indigenous services caused 10 Coalition MPs to walk out of Parliament in protest.
“The Closing the Gap framework stretches beyond the life of any Government, it goes further than the electoral cycle. We cannot afford for progress to ebb and flow depending upon who is in power,” Shorten said.
“This is an endeavour where every Opposition wants the Government to succeed.
“But when a Government cuts $500 million from essential services – we are compelled to point out what these cuts mean.
“Right now, a host of vital organisations don’t know whether their funding will be continued, or withdrawn.
“When people are fleeing family violence need a safe place to stay, cuts will mean that shelters close.
“When having a lawyer can determine whether a first time offender gets a second chance or a prison sentence – these cuts will rob Indigenous Australians of legal aid.
“When family and children’s centres are supporting children in those vital early years–these cuts will see doors close.
“When essential preventative health programs are helping tackle smoking – cuts will jeopardise that progress.
“When strides are being made to prevent chronic disease– cuts will hobble our advance.
“I say to the Government, it is not too late to reverse these cuts.”
Reconciliation Australia CEO, Justin Mohamed, called on the Federal Government to increase efforts towards reducing inequalities between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians.
He echoed Bill Shorten’s statements and urged the Government to make no further cuts to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs programs in the upcoming budget.
“Overcoming Indigenous disadvantage is complex. It is the result of decades of discrimination and neglect, and it will take nuanced and sustained effort from all sectors of Australian society to overcome,” Mohamed said.
“The Government’s report is a transparent and frank assessment of the current situation. It shows we need strategic approaches developed in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and accompanied by sustained investment.
“Heeding the recommendations of the Close the Gap Steering Committee is a tangible way the Government can demonstrate it is listening to the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”