Housing Key to Closing the Gap
Thursday, 11th February 2016 at 11:09 am
The Australian Government should introduce targets for affordable housing for indigenous Australians in the wake of the Closing the Gap Report, a leading Not for Profit has said.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull tabled the annual report in parliament on Wednesday, revealing that apart from making progress towards the mortality rates for indigenous children under five years old and the gap in year 12 attainment, the government was failing to meet its targets in all other key areas.
“In the eight years since the Closing the Gap targets were set, there has been mixed progress towards meeting them, and today again we are seeing mixed results,” Turnbull said.
“As in previous years, the target to halve the gap in employment by 2018 is not on track. However, I am optimistic that factors such as gains in indigenous education, economic growth and strong indigenous businesses will have a positive impact on these results in coming years.
“Indigenous Australians represent 3 per cent of the Australian population yet they represent a staggering 27 per cent of the prisoner population. The indigenous adult imprisonment rate is increasing.
“When young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men see jail as a rite of passage, we have failed to give them a place in society, in our community, and an alternative pathway where they can thrive.”
Turnbull pointed to employment as a “circuit breaker” for a cycle of “young indigenous people being placed into prison, reoffending and then returning to prison”.
CEO of Mission Australia, Catherine Yeomans, said new targets to reduce “severe” overcrowding in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities were needed.
“It’s appalling, but sadly not surprising, that since 2008 there has been limited or no progress on [most] targets,” Yeomans said.
“We know Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are heavily over-represented in the homelessness stats. Safe, affordable homes are an essential foundation to many of the Closing the Gap targets, and so we believe it warrants its own target related to reducing severe overcrowding in ATSI communities.
“Without addressing overcrowding, children will continue to face poorer health, difficulties with education and child protection risks. Our national homelessness rates cannot be reduced without addressing this problem, through community-led solutions and more indigenous-controlled housing.”
On census night in 2011, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people made up 2.5 per cent of the Australian population, but accounted for 25 per cent of all those who were homeless.
Of those who were classified as homeless, 75 per cent were in severely overcrowded dwellings. Most of the severely overcrowded dwellings were based in very remote areas.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the government could not deny that more money needed to be spent on closing the gap.
“It’s easy in the current political discourse to say that throwing money at the problem won’t solve it and if it was going to solve it it would have solved it in the past,” Shorten said.
“This is an alibi to justify cutting funding because pretending that money doesn’t matter, pretending that empowerment for greater resources just doesn’t matter, is an arrogant falsehood.”
CEO of The Smith Family, Dr Lisa O’Brien, said despite the progress made on some education targets, much more needed to be done.
“Critical to improving the educational outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students is making greater progress on closing the gap in school attendance and literacy and numeracy, where progress has been stagnant or mixed,” Dr O’Brien said.
“A key factor in improving school attendance and literacy and numeracy achievement is supporting parents to be engaged in their child’s learning. Parental engagement is a bigger predictor of how children do in school than a family’s background.”
Dr O’Brien said stronger educational outcomes, including improved attendance rates, could be achieved when students and families were supported over the long-term.
“In our decades of experience of working on the ground we’ve seen the efficacy of joining up families, schools, corporates, philanthropy and government and leveraging community resources and networks to support students,” she said.
“This approach, delivered consistently over time, will support more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to achieve educationally and transition post-school into employment, training or further education.”