‘Stark Reality’ as Australia Not On Track for Closing the Gap
Tuesday, 14th February 2017 at 4:23 pm
Only one of seven targets laid out in the Closing the Gap report for Indigenous health, education and social participation is on track to be met, with Malcolm Turnbull revealing the “stark reality” that there has not been sufficient progress on meeting Indigenous targets.
The latest Closing the Gap report handed down in Parliament on Tuesday revealed that the target to improve life expectancy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by 2031 is not on track to be met. Nor is the target to halve the gap in child mortality by 2018.
Just one of the seven Closing the Gap targets, which were agreed to by the Council of Australian Government in 2008, is on track to be met – of halving the gap in year 12 attainment by 2020.
In his introduction to the report, Turnbull, said “while we celebrate the successes we cannot shy away from the stark reality that we are not seeing sufficient national progress on the Closing the Gap targets”.
“While many successes are being achieved locally, as a nation, we are only on track to meet one of the seven Closing the Gap targets this year,” Turnbull said.
“Although we are not on track to meet the ambitious targets we have set, we must stay the course.
“This ninth Closing the Gap report showcases real successes being achieved across the country— by individuals, communities, organisations and government.”
The Closing the Gap strategy, aims to reduce disadvantage among Indigenous people, who sufferer from lower life expectancy, higher child mortality, lower educational achievement and poorer employment outcomes than non-Indigenous Australians.
In particular the targets address the areas of health, education and employment, and provide a snapshot of where progress is being made and where further efforts are needed.
According to the report the 2015 Indigenous child mortality rate is “just outside the range” for the target.
Over the longer-term (1998 to 2015), the Indigenous child mortality rate declined by 33 per cent and the child mortality gap narrowed by 31 per cent over the same period.
“Continued improvements in key factors which influence the health of Indigenous children, such as access to antenatal care and rates of smoking during pregnancy, have the potential to support the achievement of this target by 2018,” the report found.
The target to close the gap in life expectancy by 2031 is not on track.
Over the longer term, the total Indigenous mortality rate declined by 15 per cent between 1998 and 2015, with the largest decline from circulatory disease (the leading cause of Indigenous deaths). However, the Indigenous mortality rate from cancer (the second leading cause of death) is rising and the gap is widening.
“The recent declines in smoking rates will contribute to improvements in health outcomes into the future,” the report found.
The early childhood education target was renewed in December 2015, aiming for 95 per cent of all Indigenous four-year-olds enrolled in early childhood education by 2025.
The data shows that in 2015, 87 per cent of all Indigenous children were enrolled in early childhood education in the year before full-time school, compared with 98 per cent of their non-Indigenous counterparts.
In terms of closing the gap in school attendance, the report found progress will need to accelerate for this target to be met.
It comes after COAG agreed to a new target in May 2014 to close the gap in school attendance by the end of 2018. The attendance rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in 2016 was 83.4 per cent, similar to 2014 (83.5 per cent), while the attendance rate for non-Indigenous students remained steady at 93.1 per cent.
Meanwhile, the target to halve the gap in reading and numeracy for Indigenous students by 2018 is not on track.
According to the latest data, of the eight areas measured (reading and numeracy for Years 3, 5, 7 and 9), only one (Year 9 numeracy) is on track although half of the eight areas showed “statistically significant improvements” in the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at or above the national minimum standard between 2008 and 2016.
Nationally the proportion of Indigenous 20 to 24 year olds who had achieved Year 12 or equivalent increased from 45.4 per cent in 2008 to 61.5 per cent in 2014-15. Over the same period, the rates for non-Indigenous attainment did not change significantly. This means the target to halve the gap in Year 12 attainment by 2020 is on track.
However, the target to halve the gap in employment by 2018 is not on track.
While there has been an increase in the Indigenous employment rate since 1994, there has been a decline since 2008. In 2014-15, the Indigenous employment rate was 48.4 per cent, compared with 72.6 per cent for non-Indigenous Australians, due in part to geography as only 35.1 per cent of Indigenous people of working age in very remote areas were employed, compared with 57.5 per cent of those living in major cities.
Turnbull said Closing the Gap was a national responsibility.
“It is clear that Closing the Gap is a national responsibility that belongs with every Australian,” he said.
“Ending the disparity is complex and challenging. This will not lessen our resolve or diminish our efforts, even when some problems seem intractable and targets elusive.”
It comes as Australia’s leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peaks called for a new relationship with government.
Ahead of the ninth Closing the Gap Report to Parliament, the leaders urged the prime minister to support the historic Redfern Statement and work with them as genuine partners.
National Congress of Australia’s First People co-chair Rod Little said it was time to “draw a line in the sand”.
“After 25 years, eight federal election cycles, seven prime ministers, eight ministers for Indigenous affairs, 400 recommendations, and countless policies, policy changes, reports, funding promises and funding cuts it’s time to draw a line in the sand,” Little said.
“We need a new relationship that respects and harnesses our expertise, and guarantees us a seat at the table as equal partners when governments are making decisions about our lives.”
The statement, which was supported by more than 30 major mainstream organisations including the Australian Medical Association and Law Council, called for changes through structured engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
National Congress of Australia’s First People co-chair Dr Jackie Huggins said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations had worked with people on the ground for decades and had shown they have solutions.
“Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations deliver 2.5 million episodes of care a year in their local communities – and are the only health and leadership models making inroads on Close the Gap targets,” Huggins said.
“Our teachers, education professionals and family violence experts are delivering real results on the ground in their communities every single day – despite chronic underfunding and an ad hoc policy approach based on three year election cycles.
“Today we are seeking a new relationship, a genuine partnership and a commitment to ongoing structured engagement.”
In response the prime minister said the vision aligned with “the government’s commitment to do things with Indigenous Australians, not do things to them”.
“We’ll work to ensure that the Closing the Gap initiatives are community-driven and recognise that Indigenous leaders are absolutely central – paramount – to finding the solutions in a way that supports identity and wellbeing,” Turnbull said.