POLITICS

Widening The Gap: Indigenous Life Expectancy Still Not Improving

Four of the seven Closing the Gap targets are not closing targets at all.

14/02/2017 12:04 PM AEDT | Updated 14/02/2017 3:17 PM AEDT
Alex Ellinghausen/Fairfax
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten attend the welcome to country Tuesday in the Great Hall at Parliament House in Canberra

CANBERRA -- The annual report card on Indigenous disadvantage has been handed down and it shows only one of the seven Closing the Gap targets will be met this year.

In the quest to eliminate the health and life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians by 2030, the ninth annual Closing the Gap report has found "insufficient national progress" in meeting set targets.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is reporting to federal parliament that progress overall is too slow.

"We are still not making enough progress," he told parliament. "This report demonstrates that all Australian governments have much more work to do.

"I'm very saddened and disappointed that the target to halve the gap in Indigenous child mortality is not on track.

"We must redouble our efforts."

Again, in the ninth report, there's little to no progress in closing the life expectancy gap.

In fact, while smoking rates have dropped, the gap has widened in respect to deaths from cancer.

And, while there has been improvement over the longer term, the target to halve the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous children under five within a decade has gone off track.

In education, improvement in school attendance could be slipping away.

Alex Ellinghausen/Fairfax
Side by side. Bill Shorten and Malcolm Turnbull

Dropping slightly from 83.5 percent in 2014 to to 83.4 percent in 2016, there has been "no meaningful change" in the national Indigenous school attendance rate. The report pleads for accelerated progress in this area across the nation.

Not on track

The target to close the gap in life expectancy within a generation

The target to halve the gap in child mortality within a decade

The target to halve the gap in reading and numeracy for Indigenous students within a decade

The target to halve the gap in employment within a decade

On track after revising the target

Ensuring access to early childhood education for all Indigenous four year olds

Needs help after revising target

The target to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous school attendance by the end of 2018.

But there is cause for optimism.

Some health and education markers have been improving over the longer term and there have been advances in reading and numeracy.

The Closing the Gap reports notes improvements in the proportion of indigenous mothers not smoking during pregnancy and a lower proportion of babies born with low birthweight.

And nationally, the proportion of Indigenous 20-24 year-olds achieving Year 12 or equivalent has jumped from 45.4 percent in 2008 to 61.5 percent in 2014-15.

On track

The target to halve the gap in Year 12 attainment by 2020

The Prime Minister insists Australia "must stay the course," despite not meeting meeting the "ambitious" targets.

There have been calls to make the target more ambitious.

Four of the seven Closing the Gap targets are not closing targets at all. The stated aim is to halve the gaps between Indigenous people and the rest of Australia.

The Turnbull Government, according to the Prime Minister, has "started the journey" in reforming its relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

It is changing the operation of the Indigenous Affairs portfolio, moving from paying for services to linking funding to outcomes, and Turnbull insists, removing a "one-size-fits-all mindset".

"I firmly believe that people must be involved in the process in order to be engaged in the outcomes," the Prime Minster said. "It has to be a shared endeavour."

"Greater empowerment of local communities will deliver the shared outcomes we all seek."

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