Years of prosperity bypassed Indigenous Australians

By Greg Ansley | NZ Herald

Kevin RuddThe good times before the global economic crisis did little to improve the lot of Australia's indigenous people.

Even the good times before the global economic crisis struck did little to improve the lot of the nation's indigenous people, a new report card on the gap between white and black Australia shows.

Described by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd yesterday as "devastating", figures produced for federal and state leaders by the Productivity Commission show that in a number of key areas the gap has actually widened.

And there had been no improvement in 80 per cent of the indicators used to track movements in Aboriginal living standards, the report said.

Some indicators - especially concerning children - could be influenced by improved reporting after federal intervention in the Northern Territory, but Rudd said governments faced a massive challenge.

"We have to redouble and treble our efforts to make an impact."

The report said governments alone could not solve high rates of poverty, crime, abuse and ill-health among Australia's 517,000 Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.

"Meaningful change will also require commitment and actions by indigenous people themselves, with support from the private and no-profit sectors and the general community, as well as governments," it said.

The report said that Aborigines had seen some improvements in employment, incomes and measures of wealth such as home ownership through the prosperity of the past decade.

But living standards for non-indigenous Australia had also risen, maintaining or widening the gap between the two societies.

Indigenous levels of disability and chronic disease remained almost twice those of the rest of Australia, and even with increases during the prosperous years, median incomes of indigenous households were still only two-thirds those of other Australians.

The rate of hospitalisation for potentially preventable diseases among Aborigines increased in the two years to 2006-07, heavily influenced by "lifestyle" issues relating to obesity, nutrition, tobacco, alcohol and drugs.

Indigenous children have especially suffered. They are six times more likely to be abused than other children - up from four times as likely since 2003. The report noted a doubling in the rate of substantiated notifications for indigenous child neglect or abuse since 1999-2000.

The latest reported rate of 35 cases per 1000 indigenous children compares with 6 per 1000 for the rest of the country. Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said these figures showed the scale of the problem still facing Australia.

The increase probably reflected - in part - improved reporting, which was welcome.

The report said the indigenous teenage birthrate had not changed between 2004 and 2007, and remained four times higher than for other teenagers.

High hospitalisation rates for indigenous toddlers up to the age of 4 were also generally unchanged.

Homes remain dangerous.

The report said that the rate at which Aborigines were hospitalised because of domestic violence was more than 30 times higher than for other Australians, and the homicide rate was seven times higher.

Significant rises in imprisonment rates since 2000 further meant that indigenous Australians were now 13 times more likely to be jailed.

The report said there had been a small fall in the proportion of Aborigines living in overcrowded houses, and better access to clean water, electricity and sewerage.

Greg Ansley | July 03, 2009 | NZ Herald