‘Deficit mentality’ has marred Closing the Gap: Morrison

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“The progress may not be fast enough or far enough but it still can discourage further efforts because of that approach, so we do always need to mark what’s been accomplished.”

The 11th Closing the Gap report to Parliament is expected to show that the targets set in 2008 have “by and large” not been met, though there is some positive news.

Malcolm Turnbull announces the 2018 Prime Minister's Closing the Gap Report.

Malcolm Turnbull announces the 2018 Prime Minister’s Closing the Gap Report.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Progress towards meeting two of seven goals – for getting more Indigenous children into early childhood education and for halving the year 12 attainment gap – are on track, but progress on five others are not.

Closing the gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians by 2031 is not on track, nor is a halving of the gap in child mortality rates by 2018, halving the employment gap, halving the gap in reading and numeracy for Indigenous students and closing the gap in school attendance.

On reading and numeracy, results are mixed. The share of Indigenous students meeting national minimum standards in years 3 and 5 reading, and years 5 and 9 numeracy, increased by around 11 to 13 percentage points. But only year 9 numeracy was on track in all states.

The Indigenous child mortality rate has declined by 10 per cent but the gap has not narrowed, as the non-Indigenous rate has declined even faster. Just over half the Indigenous Australians of working age living in major cities were employed, while in remote areas the figure was as low as 31 per cent.

New targets are expected to be more evidence-based and “strike the balance between ambition and what is achievable”, Mr Morrison is expected to say.

The government also wants to see a pivot towards increasing opportunities for economic development, not reflected in the current closing the gap framework.

The fresh approach to Closing the Gap builds on work under way since 2017, when the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed to a “refresh” of the strategy, in line with calls from Indigenous leaders for a greater role in deciding and designing the targets.

In the run-up to the last COAG meeting in November, the head of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, Pat Turner, called for Aboriginal bodies to be given “full partnership” in the process.

However for many Indigenous leaders, a top priority is achieving a First Nations “Voice” to be embedded in the Constitution, in line with the historic 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Labor has promised a referendum on the issue in its first term if elected, while the Coalition remains wary of the move, saying it runs the risk of becoming a “third chamber” of Parliament.

Deborah Snow is a senior writer for The Sydney Morning Herald.

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