NATIONAL AFFAIRS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Aboriginal disadvantage: more than question of money
, July 25, 2009
For many decades governments, both state and federal, have attempted to address the problem of disadvantaged Aboriginal people and communities by a multi-billion dollar combination of direct spending and affirmative action.
The Australian Productivity Commission's latest report Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage 2009
shows that, in spite of some improvement in the economic condition of Aborigines, these programs have largely been a failure.
The biennial report, commissioned by state and federal governments, attempts to put together reliable statistical information to assist policy-making in relation to Australia's indigenous populations.
The report makes clear that the information in the latest report does not accurately reflect the impact of the Northern Territory intervention by the Howard Government in 2007, which arose in the context of horrific evidence of sexual abuse of children in remote indigenous communities, which the Northern Territory government had done nothing to address.Alarming findings ...
Nevertheless, it is a depressing report. It found:
• No improvement in the life expectancy gap in the Northern Territory between indigenous and other Australians over the period from 1967 to 2004. For the states, no comparable figures were available.
• Mortality rates for indigenous infants and young children remain two to three times as high as those for all infants and young children.
• There has been negligible change in indigenous students' performance over the past 10 years, and no closing of the gaps between indigenous and non-indigenous students' performances.
• The proportion of indigenous 19-year-olds who had completed year 12 or equivalent increased from 31 to 36 per cent between 2001 and 2006. However, the non-indigenous rate increased from 68 to 74 per cent, leaving the gap unchanged.
• The employment-to-population ratio for indigenous people increased from 43 per cent to 48 per cent between 2001 and 2006. However, similar increases for non-indigenous people left the 24 percentage point gap unchanged.
• After adjusting for inflation, median incomes for both indigenous and non-indigenous households increased by around 8 per cent between 2001 and 2006. However, median incomes of indigenous households remained 65 per cent of those of non-indigenous households in both 2001 and 2006.
• The rate of substantiated notifications for child abuse or neglect increased for both indigenous and non-indigenous children between 1999-2000 and 2007-08. However, the gap widened, with the indigenous rate increasing from four to six times the non-indigenous rate.
• There is limited data on the prevalence of family and community violence, but several recent reports have found violence to be a continuing issue for many indigenous communities.
• Despite repeated attempts to keep Aboriginal people out of prison, the imprisonment rate increased by 46 per cent for indigenous women and by 27 per cent for indigenous men between 2000 and 2008. After adjusting for age differences, indigenous adults were 13 times as likely as non-indigenous adults to be imprisoned in 2008, compared to 10 times in 2000. The indigenous juvenile detention rate increased by 27 per cent between 2001 and 2007; indigenous juveniles were 28 times more likely to be detained than non-indigenous juveniles as on June 30, 2007.
The report shows that there has been almost no progress in achieving the joint governments' action program, which set six objectives:
1) Closing the life expectancy gap within a generation.
2) Halving the gap in the mortality rate for indigenous children under five within a decade.
3) Ensuring all indigenous four-year-olds in remote communities have access to quality early childhood programs within five years.
4) Halving the gap in reading, writing and numeracy for children within a decade.
5) Halving the gap for indigenous students in Year 12 attainment rates by 2020.
6) Halving the gap in employment outcomes within a decade.
In response to the report, the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, said that the findings were "devastating". He told The Australian
that he was unable to say whether his $4.6 billion Closing the Gap
policy package was having any effect in crucial areas such as health and education.
This highlights the fact that the solution to the problem involves far more than throwing money at it.
An important part of the solution is to enlist the assistance of those Aboriginal leaders who have shown, in their own lives, how to improve the condition of indigenous people without becoming dependent on government hand-outs.
These include North Queensland's Noel Pearson, New South Wales' Warren Mundine, Victoria's Sharon Firebrace, and Western Australian magistrate, Sue Gordon.
The weakness of successive government programs, from the Hawke/Keating Government's ATSIC to the Rudd Government's Closing the Gap
program, is that they have under-utilised or even ignored the knowledge and wisdom of those best able to address this crisis.