Prime Minister Tony Abbott says he is hopeful the gap in Indigenous disadvantage will be bridged within the next two decades, but concedes the failures revealed in the Closing The Gap report, released today, are profoundly disappointing.
In an address to Parliament, Mr Abbott said the latest Closing the Gap report showed that overall, Aboriginal people were leading healthier lives but he acknowledged difficulties existed in improving Indigenous employment and education.
He said he was committed to working harder to get kids to school.
“As far as I am concerned, there is no more important cause than ensuring that Indigenous people enter fully into their rightful heritage as the first and as first-class citizens of this country,” Mr Abbott said.
“We must strive and strive again to ensure that the first Australians never again feel like outcasts in their own country.
“In about 15 or 20 years, hopefully the gap will be closed, hopefully health outcomes will be much the same for Aboriginal Australians and the rest of us.”
Mr Abbott reported to Parliament some improvements in education and health outcomes, but said the targets for closing the life expectancy gap, early childhood access, reading and numeracy and employment had either not been met or were not on track.
“Much more work is indeed needed because this seventh Closing The Gap report is, in many respects, profoundly disappointing,” he said.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten used his speech to Parliament to call on the Government to reverse budget cuts to indigenous services.
“This is an endeavour when 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,” he said.
Northern Territory Labor senator Nova Peris said the report showed Indigenous Australians had been let down.
“When you look at the Closing the Gap report, when you look at the incarceration rates, when you talk about juvenile reinvestment, that’s been neglected… we always talk about closing the gap in educational and health outcomes. That’s all gone backwards. There’s not a lot to smile about on a day like today.
“Australia is so rich in so many areas, but we’ve got a lot to be ashamed about in the treatment of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” she said.
Warren Mundine, chairman of Mr Abbott’s handpicked advisory council on Indigenous affairs, acknowledged the Government’s efforts were failing in a number of key areas.