An annual report on the well-being of Indigenous Australians has revealed just two of the seven government goals established to close the gap in outcomes across health, child mortality, employment, life expectancy and education are “on track.”
The 12th Closing the Gap report shows improvements related to the percentage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children enrolled in early childhood education and the number of Indigenous students completing the final year of high school.
However, major disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people across literacy and numeracy, school attendance and employment rates remain.
A key target is to halve the gap in mortality rates between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children under 5 within a decade.
The report shows that, in 2018, the child mortality rates for Indigenous children was 141 per 100,000 — double the rate for their non-Indigenous counterparts. The difference in mortality rates has widened since 2008 since the rate for non-Indigenous children has improved at a faster speed than for Indigenous children.
The gap in school attendance rates also remains, as does the gap in reading, writing and numeracy outcomes.
In 2018, employment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people sat at just under 50%, compared to 75% for non-Indigenous Australians. Meanwhile, the life expectancy for Indigenous males is 8.6 years less than non-Indigenous males (71.6 years against 80.2).
For women, that disparity sits at 7.8 years (75.6 against 83.4)
Linda Burney and Ken Wyatt, the first female and male Indigenous Members of the House of Representatives, embrace after the Closing the Gap statement was delivered to Parliament pic.twitter.com/r7kHfXMDgB— Alex Ellinghausen (@ellinghausen) February 12, 2020
In response to the report, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that a new modern strategy for the Closing the Gap policy was needed.
"Closing the Gap has never really been a partnership with Indigenous people," Morrison said in parliament, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). "We perpetuated an ingrained way of thinking passed down over two centuries and more, and it was the belief that we knew better than our Indigenous peoples. We don't. We thought we understood their problems better than they did. We don’t.”
Morrison, Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt, state leaders and key Aboriginal organisations are now in the process of signing a contract to refresh the Closing the Gap approach.
Pat Turner, the CEO of Aboriginal health organisation NACCHO, is co-chairing the creation of the new policy.
She told the ABC that policy changes could be implemented as early as June.
"It is hard not to get overwhelmed by the lack of progress, a widening gap in life expectancy, soaring rates of incarceration, with our people dying in custody," she said. “[There is] goodwill and a desire for change. We're aiming for a maximum of 15 targets [and] all the targets should be national. [There will be] new ones like justice, for example.”
Turner added: “And, for the first time, there will be actual Aboriginal involvement in designing this process."