The Federal Government published an annual progress report on ‘Closing the Gap’ this week.
Closing the Gap aims to address inequalities between First Nations and non-First Nations people in Australia. It involves a series of targets that have been agreed to by Federal, state and territory governments.
The current 17 targets were agreed to in 2020. Only four are clearly on track.
Government aspirations to Close the Gap date back to 2007. The initial targets were largely unsuccessful. Governments agreed to new targets in 2020.
Former Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the initial goals had failed because they did not “truly seek to partner” with First Nations communities. The new targets were designed to address this.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said this week that failure to work with First Nations communities was “a mistake we must learn from and… never repeat”.
There are 17 specific policy targets covering a range of areas including health, education, incarceration, domestic and family violence, housing, economic outcomes, and land rights.
They are accompanied by four policy priorities which focus on involving First Nations communities in decision-making and improving data collection.
Only nine of the 17 targets have new data available to assess their progress. Of those, four are on track, four are going backwards and one more is not on track but slowly improving.
Targets on track
The target for 91% of babies to be born with a healthy weight by 2031 is on track.
The target for 95% of children to be enrolled in preschool by 2025 is on track.
The target to increase the land area with Traditional Owner legal rights or interest by 15% by 2030 is on track.
The target to cut incarceration for 10-17-year-olds by 30% by 2031 is on track. However, this target would still result in a youth incarceration rate much higher than that of all Australian youths.
Not on track
The target for 55% of children to be ready for school by 2031 is not on track.
The target to reduce adult incarceration rates by 15% by 2031 is not on track.
The target to cut child rates in out-of-home care by 45% by 2031 is not on track.
The target to achieve a “significant and sustained” reduction in suicide rates is not on track.
The target to increase the sea area with Traditional Owner rights by 15% by
2030 is improving but not on track.
There is no new data to assess progress on the target to close the gap in life expectancy by 2031.
The same is true for the targets for 96% of 20-24-year-olds to have completed school and 70% of 25-34-year-olds to have completed a tertiary qualification (Certificate III or above) by 2031.
Targets for 67% of 15-24-year-olds to be working, studying or training and for 62% of 25-64-year-olds to be employed by 2031 will be updated soon with data from the 2021 Census.
The remaining targets with insufficient data to assess include:
A target for 88% to be living in appropriately sized housing by 2031.
A target to reduce all forms of family violence and abuse by at least 50% by 2031, towards zero.
A target to achieve a “sustained increase” in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages being spoken by 2031.
A target to achieve equal levels of “digital inclusion” by 2026.
Linda Burney, Minister for Indigenous Australians, said in the foreword to the report “we can and must do better… I understand that many First Nations communities are frustrated by a lack of progress. Equally, I am filled with hope from the future.”