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Small Gains Overshadowed By Staggering Inequality In Closing The Gap Report

Indigenous health, education and employment still grim.

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has delivered the annual Closing the Gap speech in parliament, reporting on the progress targets set by the Council of Australian Governments in 2008.

Lukas Coch / AAP

The targets were put in place by federal and state governments to improve the massive disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in health, education and employment.

"Now while we should celebrate the successes, we cannot sugar-coat the enormity of the job that remains," Turnbull told Parliament. "We do face very real and difficult challenges, particularly in isolated communities".

"We must be honest about the catastrophe and violence created by drug and alcohol misuse and confront, and respond, to the cries of help, particularly from women and children".

The report shows that Indigenous child mortality rates are down by 33% between 1998 and 2014 and immunisation rates of a child by the age of five in the Indigenous community are much higher than the rest of the population.

Mark Kolbe / Getty Images

The mortality rate of Indigenous people as whole still remains high and falls short of targets set to reduce deaths, in particular from circulatory diseases like heart attack and stroke, in 2006.

Indigenous Australians can expect to die around 10 years younger than the rest of the population and targets to close the life expectancy gap by 2031 are completely off- track.

Dan Peled / AAP

"The health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is slowly improving but the current rate of progress will have to gather pace if the life expectancy target is to be met by 2031," Turnbull says in the report.

"Meeting this target remains challenging because, among other things, non-Indigenous life expectancy is expected to rise over the coming years".

A commitment to address the high levels of unemployment amongst Indigenous Australians by federal and state governments has completely failed.

Dan Peled / AAP

The target to halve the gap in employment by 2018 has completely stagnated with the Prime Minister writing that "no progress" has been made since 2008.

Indigenous employment rates fell from almost 54% to around 47% between 2012 - 2013.


However, there is good news when it comes to education. With more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders graduating from year 12 than ever before.

Tracey Nearmy / AAP

The numbers of Indigenous people finishing year 12 has jumped by around 13% since 2008.

The report shows the gap has narrowed by almost 12% between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians when it comes to attaining at year 12 certificate.

Federal Assistant Health Minister Ken Wyatt has called on Aborignal and Torres Strait Islanders to be more proactive and take greater individual responsibility when it comes to closing the gap.

Sean Davey / BuzzFeed News

"We can't get government to fix everything for us. It is all about us stepping up. Every single mum and dad that have children we've got to encourage them to be part of a success in education and health," Wyatt told BuzzFeed News.

"The community have to be a part of the solution, I'm going to go one step further and say we also have to drive the change and want to drive it. Governments can give us resources and governments can give us programs but if we are not part of that, and if we're not engaging, how do we expect things to change for us?"

Wyatt, the first Aboriginal person to be elected to the house of representatives, says that while the majority of targets are off track, some positive gains in health is a good indication of the future.

"I believe that in a decade we can close the gap even further, the young ones coming through, who are more successful than we are, will affect change that will close those gaps," he says.

Northern Territory Labor Senator Nova Peris is blunt about the Closing the Gap report findings, saying they're disappointing, but not unexpected.

Sean Davey / BuzzFeed

"There was minimal impact last year, but when you look at the chronic disease issues around mental health, drug and alcohol dependencies, that requires much more resources," Peris tells BuzzFeed News.

"We'll be back here in 12 months probably having the same conversation. We need resources, let's celebrate the small wins, but it's sad that a country that prides itself on inclusiveness is not homely to its first peoples,"

Peris points to the education as an area that needs more investment.

"From the time you're born you're up against it. You have a government that says, 'get your kids to school, just round them up and send them to school'. Well, we actually don't have the resources to cater for children who have not been engaged with the school system".

In closing his speech, Turnbull said he remains hopeful for the future of Indigenous Australia.

"When the first Closing the Gap report was tabled in 2009, as the leader of the opposition, I delivered a statement to Parliament. I affirmed the Coalition's commitment to deliver a new future, with hope and opportunity for all, to Indigenous Australians," Turnbull said.

"Today, as Prime Minister I stand by the intent of that commitment. However, I will honour that commitment not by delivering to Indigenous Australians, but by working with a diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders and communities across Australia."

Formerly with BuzzFeed News, Allan Clarke is a NITV reporter based in Sydney.

Contact Allan Clarke at

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