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Closing the Gap update: four targets going backwards

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Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said there had been a “collective effort across [political parties], across administrations, across levels of government,” to close the gap.
closing the gap target update

The Federal Government has released its annual update on the progress of the Closing the Gap targets.

Federal, state, and territory governments agreed to the targets to reduce disadvantages faced by First Nations people.

Of the current 17 targets, four are clearly on track.

Here’s the latest.

Context

Targets “to overcome the entrenched inequality” faced by First Nations people, “so that their life outcomes are equal to those of all Australians” were first adopted in 2008.

These targets were refreshed in 2020 when the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Organisations, with all levels of government, signed a new agreement to address inequalities.

Worsening targets

While data was limited for some targets, outcomes have declined in these areas:

  • First Nations children meet developmental markers in their first year of school.
  • Adults aren’t over-represented in the criminal justice system.
  • Fewer children in out-of-home care.
  • A considerable decrease in the suicide rate.

On track

The following targets were on track:

  • Children can access culturally appropriate early childhood education.
  • The majority of people aged 25-64 are in work.
  • Fewer 10-17-year-olds in the criminal justice system. While First Nations young people are still over-represented, there has been progress in the last five years.
  • First Nations people have legal rights or interests to their land.

Response to the update

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese described an increase in First Nations suicide rates over recent years as “tragic”.

During a speech commemorating the 16th anniversary of the National Apology to Indigenous people, Albanese said the government was “determined” to work with communities towards better outcomes.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said there had been a “collective effort across [political parties], across administrations, across levels of government,” to close the gap.

Review

Today’s Closing the Gap update comes a week after the Productivity Commission released a review of the scheme as a whole.

It found “pockets of good practice”, but overall measures to improve First Nations outcomes have been “slow, uncoordinated and piecemeal”.

The Commission called on governments to consult with First Nations groups during the design phase of measures to close the gap, and said Indigenous community organisations often deliver better outcomes than governments.

Next steps

The government today announced two measures to close the gap — a national Commissioner for First Nations children and young people, and a jobs program for remote areas.

Establishing a national commissioner follows a similar initiative from the ACT Government, which appointed Bundjalung Widubul-Wiabul lawyer Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts last year.

The jobs program will begin later this year and replaces a scheme created by the previous Coalition government.

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