The Federal Government will not meet the majority of the targets in its program to turn around Indigenous disadvantage
This is the first year the Productivity Commission has produced the National Indigenous Reform Agreement Performance Assessment.
The assessment was previously undertaken by the COAG Reform Council.
That is the damning assessment of a Productivity Commission report on the six Closing the Gap targets, which were set back in 2008.
The targets cover life expectancy, child mortality, education and employment.
But the commission’s review shows there has been improvement in just one area — reducing gaps in child mortality.
Improving life expectancy, access to preschool, and reading and numeracy rates are all showing no progress, and the employment target is going backwards.
The Productivity Commission said the Government needed to get serious about evaluating which programs were actually working in Indigenous communities.
“Broadly speaking it seems unlikely they will be met,” commission chairman Peter Harris said.
The Closing the Gap report card is tabled on the first sitting day of Parliament each year, and each year since 2008 there has been an admission that almost no progress has been made to drive down Indigenous disadvantage by 2030.
“Frankly there were wide gaps in some cases between Indigenous employment levels and non-Indigenous employment levels, so a very wide gap to fill anyway,” Mr Harris said.
“The state of the Australian economy today is probably not what it was back when the targets were first established, so there are an array of reasons, but the bottom line is … we’re not getting the result, it’s going backwards and therefore we must do more.”
Getting young Aboriginal men and women into jobs is a major focus for Rodney Carter, Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation chief executive in Victoria.
“The greatest welfare for a person or the freedom from it is to have a form of employment and to be able to have your own money,” he said.
“You can have choices on what you actually do with money and that’s just the way that society’s set up.
“We can’t change that and you can be angry with the world and think, ‘well you know this was our land, largely it’s been taken away’ and get excluded but if we can somehow participate, empower ourselves through having some form of an income, that’s the greatest form of, I call it welfare.
“It seems to improve yourself.”
The Productivity Commission has suggested that more effort be put into evaluating those programs that appear to be working.
“At the moment we have a lot of effort going into reporting the results of performance, and the performance [is] often poor, and much less effort [is] going into evaluating what works,” Mr Harris said.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians experience profound economic and social disadvantage. It is manifest in many ways, affects both the young and the old, and can span generations.
- To lend impetus to the task of addressing that disadvantage, COAG has committed to a number of targets for reducing the disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in life expectancy, health, education and employment outcomes.
- This report is the sixth in a series of performance assessments for the Closing the Gap targets (with assessments made previously by the COAG Reform Council).
- Like other components of the Indigenous reporting framework, the focus of this report series is on monitoring broad outcomes rather than establishing what works in bridging outcomes gaps. Much less is known about the latter.
- As well as assessing progress against the targets, the Commission has therefore looked at how the broader reporting framework and policy evaluation efforts could be improved.
- At the national level, progress in meeting individual gap targets has been mixed.
- Good progress has been made in reducing outcomes gaps in child mortality and Year 12 (or equivalent) attainment rates. And though the target of providing access to early childhood education for all Indigenous four year olds in remote areas by 2013 was not met, the evidence suggests a positive outcomes picture.
- But despite considerable effort and investment, little or no progress has been made in closing gaps for life expectancy and reading and numeracy. And employment gaps have increased rather than narrowed.
- Meeting these latter targets seems an unlikely prospect at this stage.
- Outcomes at the jurisdictional level have generally been consistent with national outcomes.
- In many areas, outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians continue to be markedly worse in more remote areas. Even where considerable progress has been made in closing national level gaps, there is still much to do outside of the major population centres.
- Looking to the future, there is a strong case for rationalising reporting on Indigenous outcomes and disadvantage.
- While tracking progress towards an outcomes end point can inform policy making, it is not a substitute for examining the role of specific policies in reducing disadvantage, and assessing their cost effectiveness in absolute terms and relative to other approaches.
- The critical role that robust policy evaluation could, and should, play in improving outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians is widely acknowledged.
- Though such evaluation can be challenging, a much stronger evaluation culture in the Indigenous policy area should be promoted. It is important that such evaluations consider the effectiveness of mainstream services which account for 80 per cent of Indigenous expenditure.
- Options for invigorating evaluation include: an overarching review of policy evaluation in the Indigenous area; COAG committing to evaluating policy settings in a target area or a sub-set of policies in a particular area (say education); and adding a procedural, evaluation-focused target to the Closing the Gap initiative
A change in approach is needed to improve outcomes for Indigenous Australians
It is becoming increasingly clear that a number of the ‘Closing the Gap’ targets will not be met according to a Productivity Commission report released today.
The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) committed to a number of targets for reducing the disparity in life expectancy, health, education and employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The report monitors progress against these targets.
Despite considerable effort and investment, little or no progress has been made at the national level in closing gaps for life expectancy and reading and numeracy. Employment gaps have increased rather than narrowed.
‘Meeting the targets for life expectancy, reading and numeracy and employment seems an unlikely prospect at this stage’, Peter Harris, Chair of the Productivity Commission, said.
On the positive side, the report shows that good progress has been made in reducing outcomes gaps in child mortality and Year 12 (or equivalent) attainment rates at the national level.
And while the target of providing access to early childhood education for all Indigenous four years olds in remote areas was not met, the evidence points to positive outcomes.
A much greater emphasis must be placed on policy evaluation, the report states.
‘If we are to see improvements in outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians we need to move further into the detail, examining which policies and programs work better than others and why. Our current focus is on setting targets and monitoring outcomes. This must be complemented by evaluation,’ Productivity Commission Chair Peter Harris said.
The report also states that there is a strong case for rationalising the current framework for reporting on Indigenous outcomes and disadvantage.
‘There is a wide array of information available to tell the story of Indigenous disadvantage, but surely the nature and significance of that disadvantage is not in dispute. Removing some of the duplicate reporting could be a means of freeing up resources for policy evaluation,’ Peter Harris said.
This is the first year the Productivity Commission has produced the National Indigenous Reform Agreement Performance Assessment. The assessment was previously undertaken by the COAG Reform Council.