Thursday, August 25, 2011

Mixed progress. Our Indigenous gap widens, narrows

Indigenous imprisonment, substantiated child abuse and chronic disease continue to trend higher two years after Kevin Rudd announced an ambitious program to “close the gap” and four years after John Howard announced his Aboriginal intervention.

The latest trend data assembled in a report entitled Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage show improvement in only 13 of the 45 indicators monitored by the government. In another 10 the report finds “no real improvement”. In seven it finds outcomes going backwards.

Although the first such report since Kevin Rudd committed Australia to “closing the gap” in 2009 much of the data is dated, providing only an indication of the trend at the time the commitment was made or slightly after.

The Indigenous imprisonment rate for men soared 35 per cent in the decade to 2010; the rate for women jumped 59 per cent. By 2010 Indigenous Australians were imprisoned at 14 times the rate of other Australians. In 2009 Indigenous youth were detailed at 23 times the rate of other Australians, a decline from the peak in 2008.

The rate of substantiated child abuse in Indigenous families more than doubled over the decade to 2009-10, a period in when the rate of substantiated abuse among other Australians climbed 25 per cent. The report says while it is possible some of the increase is due to improved child protection action, “some is likely to reflect real increases in child abuse and neglect, given little improvement in the social and economic circumstances of Indigenous people”.

Indigenous Australians remain twice as likely as others to suffer a severe disability, a gap unchanged over the six years to 2008... The gap in hospitalisation rates for most chronic diseases was also unchanged, except for heart disease, diabetes and end-stage renal disease, where the gap grew.

Indigenous employment has climbed in the four years to 2008, but at the same rate as non-Indigenous employment meaning the gap is unchanged.

Indigenous households earn $300 per week less than other Australian households, a gap that is unchanged although real Indigenous incomes have increased strongly, keeping pace with other incomes.

Home ownership rates climbed steadily between 1994 and 2008 with the proportion of Indigenous Australians living in a home that was owned rather than rented (either with or without a mortgage) climbing from 22 to 29 per cent.

The proportion of Indigenous students completing Year 12 climbed from 20 to 26 per cent between 2001 and 2008 and the academic performance of Indigenous Year 12 students improved, but the performance of non-Indigenous students climbed faster, widening the gap.

The proportion of Indigenous Australians working towards or holding post-secondary qualifications climbed from 26 per cent to 34 per cent in the four years to 2008, but the proportion of other Australians holding or obtaining post-secondary qualifications also climbed, leaving the gap unchanged.

Mortality rate among Indigenous Australians appears to be falling, with child mortality falling sharply, but the report’s authors complain good data on life expectancy is unavailable, leaving them unable to judge progress on Kevin Rudd’s 2009 commitment to close the life expectancy gap within a generation.

Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage will be launched this morning by its principal authors, Gary Banks and Robert Fitzgerald of the Productivity Commission and Professor Mick Dodson of the Australian National University.

Published in today's SMH and Age

Australia's Indigenous Report Card

Indigenous imprisonment - worse

Substantiated child abuse - worse

Chronic disease - worse

Employment gap - unchanged

Education gap - unchanged

Income gap - unchanged

Home ownership rate - improved

Infant mortality gap - improved

Steering committee for the review of government service provision, Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage, to be launched this morning

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