An Aboriginal leader has warned that Australia's Indigenous community "can't afford to suffer from hollow words" and "paternalism" from politicians, following the release of the latest Closing the Gap annual report.
Jackie Huggins, co-chair of the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples, labelled the ninth Closing the Gap report as "dismal" and warned both major parties the "community can't afford to suffer from hollow words".
"Another disappointing result for the Closing the Gap report; pretty dismal, and in some cases we’ve gone backwards," Huggins told BuzzFeed News. "I think there’s absolutely more room for improvement."
When Huggins was in Canberra for the report's delivery on Tuesday she presented prime minister Malcolm Turnbull with the "Redfern Statement".
The statement offers solutions to help close the gap, and was written by Aboriginal individuals and organisations. It was launched last June, but has largely been ignored by the government.
Malcolm Turnbull has agreed to review the statement, signed by more than 30 organisations working with the Indigenous community.
"Today the prime minister said once again he’ll work with us [Aboriginal people]," Huggins said on Tuesday. "I hope that it's true, because we as a community can’t afford hollow words again, and that paternalism destroys our communities."
Closing the Gap tracks the progress of seven targets set by the state and federal governments in 2008 to address the inequality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in the areas of health, education and employment.
The report shows that Aboriginal people are still dying 10 years younger than non-indigenous people. Aboriginal babies are dying at higher rates than non-indigenous babies and there is a huge gap between Indigenous and non-indigenous children when it comes to education outcomes.
"It's sad that not much has changed," Warren Mundine, the former head of the prime minister's Indigenous Advisory Council, told BuzzFeed News. "It's normal now – [after] 10 years we are still getting the same old story and same old speeches from the prime minister and the opposition."
Mundine, whose tenure as chair of the IAC was not extended by Turnbull earlier this year, said the PM appears to have a greater commitment to Indigenous affairs in 2017 than he did in 2016.
"Last year Malcolm Turnbull’s response was very lukewarm... almost non-existent, so it’s good to see him out there actually kicking the year off properly," Mundine said.
A positive part of the report was the number of Aboriginal university graduates gaining employment.
"Indigenous university graduates find work more quickly than their non-Indigenous counterparts and have, on average, higher commencing salaries," the report said.
"Indigenous graduates have very high levels of employment. In 2016 over 74% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander graduates were in full-time employment compared with 70.9% of non-indigenous graduates."