Closing The Gap

By Grace Roberts

The eighth Closing the Gap report was released last month by the government, highlighting key targets which are on track and others which are not being met on schedule to reach the 2030 goals.

The full Closing the Gap Report can be found here.

The “gap” refers to the wide gap in health, employment and education outcomes that exists between non-Indigenous and Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people in Australia. The initiative aims to increase the health and life expectancy of the population, accounting for 3% (or over 720,000) Australians, to be significantly closer to that of non-Indigenous people within one generation – by 2030.

The most recent report shows that the life expectancy target has had limited progress since the initiative started in 2008, as well as the gaps in reading, writing and numeracy which saw no overall improvement. Employment of Indigenous people also saw no improvements, and instead fell from 53.8% to 47.5%. The initiative also aims to close the gap in school attendance by 2018, however insignificant progress has been made so far since the target was set in 2014.

While there is a long way to go within these areas, and the 2030 goal for these targets is unlikely to be met, there have been some significant improvements in some target areas. Child mortality rates has decreased by 33% between 1998 and 2014, and there has been an increase of 70% in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander students finishing Year 12 between 2004-14. Enrolments of four-year-olds in pre-school to ensure their learning is supported early on in these vital years is now at 85%, not far from the 95% target by 2013 which was fallen short of. 

These are all part of 7 core targets that were identified by the COAG (Council of Australian Governments) in 2008 to be the biggest factors of hindrance to the health and longevity of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people. 

The seven targets and their progress can be summarised below:

5. Halve the gap in reading, writing and numeracy achievements within a decade
no improvement

6. Halve the gap in Year 12 attainment or equivalent by 2020
on track

7. Halve the gap in employment outcomes within a decade
employment outcomes have declined

1. Close the gap in life expectancy within a generation
limited progress

2. Halve the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous children under five within a decade
on track

3. Provide access to early childhood education for all Indigenous four-year-olds in remote communities within five years
not met, 10% enrolments less than target in 2013

4. Close the gap in school attendance within five years
no progress post-2013

In order to reach these targets and many other outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander's, the government is injecting millions of dollars of funding in different programs such as Better Start to Life which provides services to improve maternal and child health and parenting, the Remote School Attendance Strategy, and the Community Development Programme which establishes economic development opportunities for Indigenous businesses and native title holders.

At a glance:

  • The gap in child death rates has narrowed by 35% since 1998 and the target is relatively on track.
  • The gap in school attendance has has no improvement since it was set in 2014 and it is not clear yet whether this target will be on track for 2018
  • Year 12 attainment has increased with the gap of 39.6% narrowing to 28% between 2008-2013 but hasn't improved any further since then.
  • Employment has seen a decrease to 47.5% in 2013.
  • The gaps in remoteness within Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people is still clear, for example in 2014 85.7% of all Indigenous students in metropolitan areas met or exceeded the National Minimum Standards in NAPLAN whereas this was only met by 34.9% in very remote areas.

Four of the seven targets pertain specifically to outcomes in education. With only one of these four targets currently on track, there is still a very long way to go. By focussing on closing the gap in educational outcomes, the gap in health and employment will duly follow. In light of the release of the Closing the Gap report, we should be reminded of the severe inequalities prevalent in this country and prioritise working towards an Australia where circumstance doesn't dictate the opportunities someone has.

Sources:
1. Closing the Gap (website), DPMC, Australian Government
2. Closing the Gap: Prime Minister's Report 2016, DPMC, Australian Government