By Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra
Australia is falling short in its progress towards almost all its targets for overcoming Indigenous disadvantage, the 2017 Closing the Gap report released by Malcolm Turnbull shows.
“Successes are being achieved, however progress overall nationally is too slow,” the report says.
It presents a mixed picture. While there are some more encouraging longer term trends, the only target that is “on track” to be achieved is the improvement in Indigenous attainment of Year 12 education.
Speaking to the House of Representatives, Turnbull said there must be a rigorous evaluation of programs to determine what was working and what wasn’t.
The government will expand the Productivity Commission to include a new Indigenous Commissioner to lead the commission’s work of policy evaluation. It will also invest A$50 million towards research into policy and its implementation.
Here are the specific targets and the state of progress:
- Halve the gap in child mortality by 2018. The 2015 Indigenous child mortality rate is just outside the range for the target, although over the longer term (1998 to 2015) the Indigenous child mortality rates declined by one-third.
- Close the gap in life expectancy by 2031. This is also falling short, though between 1998 and 2015 Indigenous mortality rate declined by 15%.
- Have 95% of Indigenous four-year-olds enrolled in early education by 2025. In 2015, 87% were enrolled, compared with 98% of non-Indigenous children.
- Close the gap in school attendance by the end of 2018. In 2016, the attendance rate for Indigenous students nationally was 83.4%, compared with 93.1% for non-Indigenous students.
- Halve the gap in reading, writing and numeracy by 2018. Across the eight areas (reading and numeracy for years 3, 5, 7 and 9) the proportion of Indigenous students achieving national minimum standards in NAPLAN is on track in only one area (Year 9 numeracy).
- Halve the gap for year 12 or equivalent attainment rates by 2020. Nationally the proportion of Indigenous 20-to-24-year-olds who had achieved Year 12 or equivalent increased from 45.4% in 2008 to 61.5% in 2014-15, while the rates for non-Indigenous students didn’t change much, thus meaning the target is on track.
- Halve the gap in employment outcomes by 2018. There has been an increase in the Indigenous employment rate since 1994, but a decline since 2008. In 2014-15 the Indigenous employment rate was 48.4%, compared with 72.6% for non-Indigenous Australians.
Turnbull said that if people had a university degree, there was no employment gap between Indigenous and other Australians, which was “a reminder of the central importance of education”.
He said that “if we look at the long-term intergenerational trends, we see that Indigenous life expectancy is increasing, babies are being born healthier, more people are studying, and gaining post-school qualifications, and those adults are participating in work.
"These are achievements that families, elders, communities can be proud of.
"But incarceration rates and rates of child protection are too high”, with 63% of Indigenous people incarcerated last year being in prison for violent offences.
Turnbull recommitted to seeking to change the constitution to recognise the First Australians in it.
In his reply speech Bill Shorten said a justice target should be included in the Closing the Gap targets.
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He also said the Commonwealth should look at following the lead of some states towards providing reparations for the stolen generations.
“I applaud the state governments of New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania already taking steps towards providing reparations to families torn apart by the discrimination of those times. Decency demands that we now have a conversation at the Commonwealth level about the need for the Commonwealth to follow the lead on reparations. This is the right thing to do. It’s at the heart of reconciliation, telling the truth, saying sorry, and making good.”
Shorten said that “the First Australians must have first say in the decisions that shape their lives”.