PM hands down 6th Closing the Gap report

Prime Minister Tony Abbott says his personal mission is to help Australians open their hearts on Indigenous policy.

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)


Handing down the sixth Closing the Gap report, Mr Abbott has offered a mixed review of Australia's efforts to improve Indigenous life expectancy, school attendance and employment rates.


The Closing the Gap initiatives aim to breach the divide between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians by 2030.


Mr Abbott says Australia is a great country, but will never be all it should be until it does better on Aboriginal policy.


Amanda Cavill has the details.


(Click on audio tab above to hear full item)


The 2014 Closing the Gap report shows there has been a small improvement in life expectancy but that progress will need to be made to reach the target by all sides of politics six years ago.


Currently Indigenous men die more than 11 years younger than non-Indigenous men; and Indigenous women ten years earlier than other Australian women.


This year's report also shows no progress has been made towards the target to halve the employment gap within a decade.


Efforts to improve literacy and numeracy rates of Indigenous school children are lagging behind.


But there is some good news in the report.


The targets to halve the gap in child mortality within a decade and to improve year 12 attainment rates are on track.


Mr Abbott says there's much more to be done but he's confident that a fair go for Aboriginal history will not be left to another generation to remedy.


"I am confident of this: amidst all the mistakes, disappointments an uncertain starts that we have made, the one failure that we have mostly avoided is lack of goodwill. It's the one failure we've mostly avoided, and Australians are now as proud of our Indigenous heritage as we are of all of our other traditions. The challenge is to turn good intentions into better outcomes. I am confident that in these days at least for every one step backward we are taking two steps forward."


Mr Abbott says there needs to be a marked improvement of employment rates and school attendance to help address Indigenous disadvantage.


The Prime Minister says without improving education levels for Indigenous Australians, the gap cannot be closed.


"It's hard to be literate and numerate without attending school. It's hard to find work without a basic education and it's hard to live well without a job. We are all passionate to close the gap. But we may, I fear, be doomed to fail until we achieve the most basic target of all. So I propose to add a new target to our existing Closing The Gap targets. Namely, to end the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous school attendance within five years."


The Abbott government is yet to renew a national partnership deal with state and territory governments that distributes money to Indigenous health programs.


The $3.3 billion agreement is due to expire in June.


Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says this funding must be a major priority for the government.


"I believe that a good starting point for the work of 2014 and this Parliament would be to achieve that Council of Australian Governments sign-off on the new national partnership agreement on Indigenous health outcomes. An agreement that will guarantee funding beyond any measure of doubt for the national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health plan."


The Closing the Gap campaign has released a parallel Closing the Gap report which urges the Abbott government to prioritise health.


The government has not committed to implement the national Indigenous health plan, and Mr Abbott did not appoint a specific Indigenous health minister to his ministry.


Indigenous Social Justice Commissioner, Mick Gooda, says there needs to be some dramatic improvements in reaching Closing the Gap targets during the next few years.


Also co-chair of the Closing the Gap Campaign, Mr Gooda says there has been progress on cutting Indigenous smoking rates and improving child and maternal health.


But he says more needs to be done.


"The message is clear from the Close the Gap Campaign Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health equality is an issue of national importance. We are here to work across parliament to achieve our united goals. We know that together this can be the generation that all of us, not just Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but this generation can close the gap."


Australia's first Indigenous member of the House of Representatives, Ken Wyatt, agrees there needs to be a dramatic shake-up of Indigenous health services, and he's flagging mental health needs as well.


"One of the health reforms I'd like to see is a sharper focus on frontline services, improved access to primary health care. But the one that does concern me is the rates of suicide amongst young Aboriginal people across Australia. And certainly a focus on that."


Mr Abbott has repeated his pledge to spend a week in East Arnhem land later in 2014 saying it will make Indigenous policy the government's primary focus - for a few days at least.


Source World News Australia

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