Indigenous Australians are becoming increasingly disadvantaged, with more experiencing imprisonment, substance misuse and psychological distress.
Laura Morelli

17 Nov 2016 - 6:29 PM  UPDATED 18 Nov 2016 - 9:57 AM

The Productivity Commission's Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report suggests money intended to improve their welfare isn't being spent properly.

Billed as the "most comprehensive" assessment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander wellbeing produced in Australia, the report highlights an alarming worsening in justice and mental health outcomes.

It shows a surge in the adult Indigenous imprisonment rate of 77 per cent surge in the past 15-years.

The proportion of adults reporting substance misuse has risen to 31 per cent, while the hospitalisation rate for self-harm is up by 56 per cent over the past decade.

Funding cuts prove negative

Labor Senator for the Northern Territory, Malarndirri McCarthy, has told Sky News funding cuts to programs is a contributing factor to the negative outcomes.

"What I've been hearing - and certainly many other members of parliament - from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders across the country, in terms of their organisations, is the fact that they are significantly underfunded,” she said.

“If you talk to numerous organisations, many of them - you can see - are just a shell of their former cells because they are not able to help on the frontline as they used to. Especially in areas like the legal fraternity. And when we look at the high incarceration rate we do know for a fact that the reduction of services is impacting."

Addressing the Prime Minister, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says it’s not difficult to see that the focus needs to be on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

"Mr Turnbull needs to give more attention to our first Australians. This is not too hard."

Program evaluation failing

The report points to a failure of policy and oversight, with the commission estimating only 34 of 1,000 Indigenous programs have been robustly evaluated by authorities.

With over $30 billion being spent trying to overcome Indigenous disadvantage and no improvement across these wellbeing indicators many are left questioning whether the funds are being spent properly.

The Prime Minister's Indigenous Advisory Council Chairman, Warren Mundine was appalled that a full evaluation of programs wasn’t put in place.

"It's actually a bit disgraceful. We have got to really start making sure that all programs are evaluated."

Future for youth

Meanwhile, there have been improvements in some areas such as mortality rates for children, and education outcomes.

Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youthi CEO, Stephen Bartos says it’s about providing the next generation with a solid future.

"There's more Indigenous kids seeing school through to Year 12 and that's good because it means they have got a better education, it means they have got a better chance for jobs and a more satisfying life."

Closing the gap

Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner said the report was a reminder that governments have an extremely long way to go in closing the gap.

"Of concern is lack of improvement in family violence in the Northern Territory." 

Mr Gunner added that ensuring a suitable environment while working in unison will enable solid outcomes.

"My government will work with Aboriginal Territorians to ensure we deliver real decision-making power back to the bush."

Family violence epidemic

There's been no change in rates of family or community violence which is why on Thursday, three Indigenous women demanded a national task force to combat the epidemic of family violence in Aboriginal communities.

One of those women was Foundation Chairwoman of Australian Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne, Prof Marcia Langton and she says it is in fact a crisis of violence.

"We also want more support for the victims who are routinely ignored in the urban fashionable rush to behavioural change programs."

Indigenous advocates hoping it serves as a wakeup call for all levels of government about the reality of Indigenous disadvantage.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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