Australia

What the 16 new Closing the Gap targets will actually mean for Indigenous Australians

Coalition of Peaks co-chair Pat Turner, Australian Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt and Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Source: AAP

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have worked in partnership alongside governments for the first time to develop 16 new Closing the Gap targets.

A significant overhaul of the Closing the Gap agreement has established new targets to address some of the most pressing issues facing Indigenous Australians. 

For the first time the framework will include new targets around reducing rates of Indigenous incarceration, suicides, domestic violence, child removals and ensuring strong relationships with land and culture.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the agreement will have a "very meaningful impact" on reducing disparities faced by Indigenous children. 

"That's what we want to see, that's what it's all about. That, as Australians right across the country, we can have the same hopes, the same aspirations, the same goals," he said.

"It's not an easy road and there's still a long road ahead of us to achieve that."

So, what are the new Closing the Gap targets, and what impact will they actually have?

Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra.
AAP

Old frameworks marked by years of failure

The Closing the Gap framework, initially established in 2008, has been marked by years of failure to meet most targets. 

The latest report card showed only two of the seven targets were on track.

The new targets have been overhauled under the direction of Indigenous leaders, with Coalition of Peaks Co-Chair Pat Turner calling the new agreement a “turning point”. 

"Today truly is an historic occasion," she said on Thursday. 

"Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people know what is best for our communities, not governments."

Pat Turner speak to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra.
Pat Turner speak to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra.
AAP

The deal is designed to enhance partnership between Indigenous community groups and the federal and state and territory governments.  

Mr Morrison said it's not about giving "buckets of money" in additional funding, but changing the approach that has failed in the past.

"We didn't look at the gap through the eyes of Indigenous Australians," Mr Morrison said. 

"They needed to tell us what the gap was that needed to be closed and that's what this task has been about."

Labor's Indigenous affairs spokesperson Linda Burney has supported the approach, but said the size of the task can't be underestimated.

Adult and children incarceration rates 

Target: Reduce the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people (10-17 years) in detention by 30 per cent and the rate of adults in detention by at least 15 per cent by 2031.  

These new targets are aimed at reducing Indigenous Australians over-representation in the criminal justice system.

The concerns have once again been put into focus by recent rallies bringing attention to the Black Lives Matter Movement and Indigenous deaths in custody.

But the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services and Amnesty International have criticised the proposed targets for not being ambitious enough. 

Co-chair of NATSILS Cheryl Axleby said over-incarceration needs to be addressed urgently, but this target wouldn’t see parity in prison rates for adults until 2093.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, especially children, need to be with their community, not in prison,” she said.

Indigenous Australians make up around 27 per cent of the national prison population, despite making up less than three per cent of the entire population.

Families and households are safe

Target: A significant and sustained reduction in violence and abuse against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children towards zero.

The target aims to reduce the high rates of domestic violence faced by Indigenous Australians.

But according to the agreement, nationally consistent data needed to determine a specific target is not currently available.

When asked about the need to implement such a goal, Mr Wyatt said work on the target was ongoing. 

“Our senior women have asked that we do more work on that and I respect the request that they have made,” he said. 

“But the target is still zero tolerance of domestic violence against our women."

Coalition of Peaks Co-Chair Ms Turner said she hopes this could be achieved over the next few months.

“It is a national priority and one that we take very seriously," she said. 

Early childhood education is high quality and culturally appropriate 

Target: Increase the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children enrolled in early childhood education to 95 per cent, by 2025.

The new target for early childhood education remains in line with targets set under previous Closing the Gap agreements.

In 2018, 84.6 per cent of Indigenous children were enrolled in early childhood education compared with 88.8 per cent of non‑Indigenous children.

This along with year 12 attainment was one of two targets on track in this year's Closing the Gap report.

Children thrive in their early years

Target: Increase the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children assessed as developmentally on track in targeted assessment areas to 55 per cent, by 2031.

In 2018, 35 per cent of First Nations children were deemed on track across this criteria, compared with 57 per cent of non-Indigenous children. 

Cultures and languages are strong, supported and flourishing 

Target: There is a sustained increase in number and strength of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages being spoken, by 2031.

It is estimated that around 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages were spoken in Australia at the time of colonisation.

But of 123 languages currently active, only 14 of them are classified as ‘strong’, while 51 are classified as ‘endangered’.

There are up to 40 languages also identified as still attracting speakers.

People enjoy high levels of social and emotional wellbeing 

Target: Significant and sustained reduction in suicide of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people towards zero.

Indigenous Australians confront significantly higher suicides rate at 23.7 per cent of their population compared to 12.3 per cent of non-Indigenous Australians. 

People maintain a distinctive cultural, spiritual and economic relationship with their land and waters

Targets: 15 per cent increase in Australia’s landmass subject to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s legal rights or interests by 2030 and a 15 per cent increase in areas covered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s legal rights or interests in the sea.

Students achieve their full learning potential 

Target: To see 96 per cent of Indigenous people (aged between 20 to 24) achieving year 12 qualification or equivalent by 2031.

Baseline data shows 63.2 per cent of these Indigenous Australians are attaining year 12 or equivalent education, compared to 88.5 per cent for non-Indigenous Australians. 

Youth are engaged in employment or education

Target: Having 67 per cent of Indigenous youth in education, employment or training by 2031

Students reach their full potential through further education pathways

Target: For 70 per cent of those aged between 25 to 34 complete a tertiary education by 2031.

The latest baseline data shows 42.3 per cent attained qualifications of certificate level III or above compared to 72 per cent of non-Indigenous Australians. 

Strong economic participation and development of people and their communities 

Target: Increase the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 25-64 who are employed to 62 per cent, by 2031.

Statistics show on average 51 per cent of Indigenous Australians held employment compared to 75.7 per cent of non-Indigenous Australians. 

People can secure appropriate affordable housing that is aligned with their priorities and need 

Target: Increase the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in appropriately sized (not overcrowded) housing to 88 per cent, by 2031.

The latest baseline data shows 78.9 per cent of Indigenous Australians were not living in overcrowded housing compared to 92.9 per cent of non-Indigenous Australians. 

Children are not overrepresented in the child protection system

Target: Reduce the rate of over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care by 45 per cent, by 2031.

There were 17,979 people in out-of-home care across Australia as of June 2019, making up a rate of 54.2 per cent of the population among Indigenous Australians.

Everyone enjoys a long and healthy life 

Target: Close the Gap in life expectancy with a generation, by 2031. 

The latest life expectancy estimate for male Indigenous Australians is 71.6 compared to 80.2 for people non-indigenous of background.

Meanwhile, Indigenous females have a life expectancy of 75.6 years compared with 83.4 or non-Indigenous Australians. 

Children are born strong and healthy 

Target: Increase the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander babies with a healthy birth-weight to 91 per cent, by 2031.

This represents a revision of previous targets related to infant health, which had aimed to halve the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous children under five with a decade by 2018. 

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