The 2016 Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage Report shows us that while some progress has been made to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, we have a lot more work to do.

The Productivity Commission’s views on the lack of robust evaluation of programs should be a wake-up call for the Turnbull Government. The funding processes under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy are a shambles which has led to $500 million in cuts from Indigenous programs and frontline services, and the loss of local knowledge and control.

We cannot be surprised by the failure and lack of progress on many of the key indicators – particularly in relation to wellbeing.

Incarceration rates are worse, and suicide and self-harm rates are worse. There has been little or no change to family and community violence rates. There has been no significant change in access to clean water and functional sewerage and electricity services – these are basic citizenship rights. And more than 20 percent of Indigenous people are still living in overcrowded dwellings – a big contributing factor to poor health outcomes.  

The disproportionate levels of income disparity, family and community violence are exposing the next generation to an endless cycle of poverty, exclusion and a sense of hopelessness.

The time to restructure the relationship and put Aboriginal people back in charge and give proper consideration to the evidence of what works, is long overdue. We should be supporting community organisations, people on the ground, to be driving solutions.

Empowering communities and Indigenous leaders is our best hope. Young Indigenous Australians need to be supported to take on roles and responsibilities. It is the key to addressing disadvantage.

We should, celebrate the fact that more young Indigenous people are completing Year 12, and more are going university or learning a trade.

At the last election Labor proposed reforms that would deliver needs-based funding to boost support for Indigenous students. The Turnbull Government’s cuts to school funding will undoubtedly have a negative impact on Indigenous educational outcomes.

It doesn’t matter who you are or where you live – Indigenous children deserve the same opportunities as other children to go to a school with great teachers.

The Indigenous incarceration crisis is getting worse instead of better. Linked to this is the awful family violence reality and need for attention to the plight of women and children.

Labor also repeats its call for national justice targets under the Closing the Gap framework which has to focus upon the victims as much as the perpetrators of family violence. 

The high rates of suicide and self-harm among Indigenous Australians are shocking and shameful.

Indigenous people die as a result of suicide at twice the rates of non-Indigenous people, and the rates are even worse for young Indigenous people.

We know that the contributing factors for self-harm and suicide are often very different from non-Indigenous Australians. These are Indigenous-specific issues – the solutions must be designed and led by Indigenous communities.

Clearly, a substantial amount of funding goes to programs that aren’t delivering the outcomes they should be. We need a greater emphasis on programs with a rigorous evidence base, as well as those with built-in evaluations. We will never close the gap if we do not establish what works, what doesn’t, and understand what Aboriginal people have to say about them.

Above all, this report reminds us that long road to equality, justice peace and harmony for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander communities is not being delivered and the road to reconciliation is seriously fraught.  



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