Disparities Widening for First Australians

Howard years a dark age for progress

Yuko Narushima Indigenous Affairs Correspondent | Sydney Morning Herald

An Indigenous child in Australia is now six times more likely to suffer abuse or neglect than a non-indigenous child - and 28 times more likely to be jailed.

Despite government attempts to stamp out inequality on six social and economic measures, a biennial report by the Productivity Commission said disparities were widening or showing negligible improvement.

The impact of the intervention and the financial downturn on Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander people could not be properly measured because of delays in data collection and in policies taking effect, it said.

Gains made in employment and year 12 graduations were neutralised by improvements in the broader population.

The indigenous employment rate rose from 43 to 48 per cent in the five years to 2006 but still lagged 24 percentage points behind Australians in general.

High school graduation rates rose to more than a third but made no advance on the 74 per cent of non-indigenous students who completed year 12.

The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, said the report was devastating. "We have to redouble and treble our efforts to make an impact," he said.

The Indigenous Affairs Minister, Jenny Macklin, said the report was an indictment of the Howard government, which had introduced the intervention policy. She said the Coalition had to accept responsibility for the lack of progress since 2000.

"Tony Abbott [the Opposition spokesman on indigenous affairs] should recognise that this report is a report on the Howard years and recognise that there is a lot more that needs to be done," she told Sky News.

Ms Macklin was responding to a call by Mr Abbott for Labor to crack down on truancy to improve the employment and health prospects of indigenous people.

The Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report measured 50 indicators, including six targeted for improvement by federal and state governments at meetings in December 2007.

The goals were to close the life expectancy gap within a generation, halve the difference in infant mortality and employment rates within a decade and improve indigenous education at three levels: early childhood, literacy and numeracy, and high school graduations.

On no counts were significant improvements recorded.

In reading, writing and numeracy, the report said "there has been negligible change in indigenous students' performance over the past 10 years and no closing of the gap". In other areas, the gulf had widened.

The chairman of the Productivity Commission, Gary Banks, said unacceptable disparities persisted in every area measured and gains were measured in only 20 per cent.

Rates of imprisonment had risen by 46 per cent among indigenous women and 27 per cent among indigenous men in the eight years to 2008.

Juvenile detention rose 27 per cent between 2001 and 2007, making indigenous minors 28 times as likely to be jailed as non-indigenous minors.

The causes of disadvantage were linked, the report said, so alleviating a problem such as overcrowding in houses could have multiple health and learning benefits.

Instances of reported child abuse and neglect doubled in the eight years to 2008. Seven in every 200 indigenous children were now affected, six times the number of other Australian children. Growing intolerance and heightened awareness of crime could be behind the increase, the report said.

Although fewer indigenous communities were without electricity and sewerage, the latest available figures showed 32 still had no power system and 25 lacked reliable sewerage.

"The things that work generally work because of co-operative approaches between government and communities," Mr Banks said. The economic downturn would make future progress challenging, he said.

Yuko Narushim | July 03, 2009 | AAP NZ Herald

Few improvements in Australia's latest Indigenous report
By Sarah Hawke | Australian Network News

The Australian Government has described the latest report on Indigenous disadvantage as devastating, but says it hardens its resolve to improve social and economic conditions.

The latest "Overcoming Disadvantage" report was released at a meeting of the Council of Australian Governments in Darwin.

According to the report, in 80 per cent of the economic and social indicators measured by the productivity commission, there were no improvements.

Some of the areas of concern include an increase in the rate of child abuse and imprisonment.

Australia's Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin says all the programs governments have implemented will take time to reverse the appalling trends.

"Closing the gap is gonig to be very tough and will require from all of us a long-term commitment," she said.

The report did find improvements in the life expectancy gap for Indigenous Australians, though this has mainly been attributed to data assessment changes.

Australian Network News