Mick Gooda and Dr Jackie Huggins launched the Close the Gap Progress and Priorities report for 2016 in Canberra today. Now in its tenth year, NITV's Myles Morgan takes a look at this year's report.
By
Myles Morgan

Source:
NITV News
9 Feb 2016 - 5:56 PM  UPDATED 10 Feb 2016 - 11:26 AM

Deliberate or accidental racism in Australia’s hospitals, and other health services is partly to blame for the poor health outcomes for First Australians, according to the Close the Gap Campaign.

The recommendation for an inquiry is one of several in the annual Close the Gap report, which measures progress on government targets to tackle the disadvantages facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Despite ten years of campaigning, and billions of dollars spent on closing the numerous gaps, there has been minimal improvement.

Some measures, like employment and certain education targets, have gone backwards.

For Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull - who is passionate about innovation, equal opportunity and sound economic management - it will make for disheartening reading. 

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Close the Gap Campaign. Since 2006, it has outlined health and social targets for government to overcome the disadvantage facing Indigenous people.

In the 2016 report, the campaign is calling for a parliamentary inquiry into the issue of racism.

“The Campaign Steering Committee has long maintained that confronting racism in health services should be a priority for Australian governments,” the report noted.

Cases like a “monolingual service operating in a multilingual area”, and health professionals assuming whether patients are Aboriginal or not, are cited in the report as examples of institutional racism.

The Close the Gap Committee also says more Indigenous cancer patients might survive their diseases if racism weren’t an issue.

The “gap in cancer survival might be indicative of institutional racism,” it said.

Target

Progress

Figures

  • Close the gap in life expectancy by 2031

Not on track

Life expectancies

Indigenous male: 69.1y (non-Indigenous: 79.7y)

 

Indigenous female: 73.7y (non-Indigenous: 83.1y)

  • Halve the gap in infant mortality rates by 2018

On track

33% decline in Indigenous child mortality rate between 1998 and 2014

  • Ensure access for all Indigenous four-year-olds in remote communities to early education by 2013

Not met (re-targeted to 2025)

85% of ATSI four-year-olds in remote communities enrolled in school in 2013

  • Close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous school attendance by 2018

Not on track

83.7% of Indigenous students attending school (compared to 93.1% non-Indigenous students)

  • Halve the gap in reading, writing and numeracy achievements for Indigenous students by 2018

Not on track

Mixed results for NAPLAN and National Minimum Standards for Indigenous students in years 3,5,7 & 9

  • Halve the gap in Year 12 attainment rates for Indigenous Australians aged 20-24 by 2020

On track

Proportion of ATSI 20-24yo attaining Year 12 or equivalent education increased from 45.4% (2008) to 58.5% (2012-13)

  • Halve the gap in employment outcomes by 2018

Not on track

Indigenous employment rate fell from 53.8% (2008) to 47.5% (2012-13)

More fails than passes

Out of the seven Close the Gap targets, the government is on track to meet two. It will fail to meet another three if current trends continue, while it has already failed to meet a 2013 target.

A 2014 target to close the gap in school attendance within five years, also looks set to fail. 

Life expectancy

The latest figures show Indigenous men can expect to live until they are 69.1-years-old, while Indigenous women have a life expectancy of 73.7 years.

The gap in life expectancies between Indigenous and non-Indigenous men has closed by 0.8 years since the introduction of the targets in 2006.

For women, the gap has closed by 0.1 years.

At that rate, the government is not on track to close the gap in life expectancy by 2031.

While taking several notable swipes at government policies, the 2016 report urges pessimists to be cautious about the lack of progress in some areas.

According to Close the Gap chairman Mick Gooda, it's about successive governments having to put the brakes on the sliding scale of disadvantage for Aboriginal people.

“We’re heading in the right direction. What we’ve done in the last few years is actually stop the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people growing,” he said.

“Because we’re human, with human biology, it takes time for those strategies to take effect on our bodies.”

The most heartening aspect of the Close the Gap report is that the government is on track to halve the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous children under five.

Education

At current rates, the targets to ensure access to early education, halve the gap in literacy and numeracy achievements, and halve the gap in employment outcomes will not be met.

But progress has been made in getting more Indigenous adults to Year 12 or its equivalent.

The government has failed to meet its target of ensuring access to early education for all Indigenous four-year-olds in remote communities by 2013. That target has been renewed with a 2025 deadline.

Calls for campaign to be scrapped

Yawuru leader and high profile Aboriginal activist Pat Dodson has indicated it may be time to scrap the campaign altogether. 

But the campaign should stay and the targets remain immovable, according to Mick Gooda.

“I wouldn’t shift the goalposts now. We’ve always got to have that aspiration, that it [the life expectancy gap] has got to be [closed by] 2031,” he told NITV.

Time for a justice target

The Close the Gap report is also adding to the chorus of calls for a national target to reduce Indigenous imprisonment.

“The year 2016 marks a grim milestone in the numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people being held in custody. Under current projections, for the first time over 10,000 will be in custody on the night of the annual prison sentence,” the report notes.

Indigenous Australians make up approximately three per cent of the population, but nearly 30 per cent of the prison population.

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With the addition of a school attendance target in 2015, the campaign says there is potential for another target to reduce imprisonment numbers.

During the 2013 election, the Coalition did indicate its support for a justice target.

Since then, the Indigenous Affairs Minister has resisted calls to introduce imprisonment targets, a situation that continues to puzzle Mick Gooda.

“I don’t want to beat them up and say it’s another broken promise, but it is. I can’t understand the reasoning.”

The campaign is also calling for a target that will see 90 per cent of eligible Indigenous people receive National Disability Insurance Scheme funding by 2020.

Calls to reform the Indigenous Advancement Strategy

Mick Gooda has criticised the Indigenous Advancement Strategy almost since it was unveiled in the 2014 Budget.

The multi-billion dollar scheme forces many Indigenous organisations into a competitive tendering process for funding.

The Close the Gap campaign report noted the IAS caused “widespread uncertainty and distress” and “lacked transparency”.

“It is believed that the IAS process had a disproportionately negative impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and communities,” the report said.

The Close the Gap committee is not calling for the IAS to be cut, rather, for a fundamental rethink of the policy.

It says Indigenous people and organisations need to be central to any reforms to the IAS, or health outcomes will worsen.