Closing the Gap targets on Indigenous life expectancy, suicide and incarceration rates 'not on track'

The latest Closing the Gap report shows there's a long way to go on key issues, including Indigenous incarceration rates and life expectancy. Picture: Getty Images
The latest Closing the Gap report shows there's a long way to go on key issues, including Indigenous incarceration rates and life expectancy. Picture: Getty Images

Targets to improve the life expectancy and reduce the incarcerations rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are not on track to be achieved within the decade, according to the government's own projections.

The first Closing the Gap report delivered since a new national agreement was reached in July last year show the results so far have been mixed.

Four of seven original targets, including goals to lower adult incarceration rates and life expectancy, are not on track, the latest data revealed in the Productivity Commission report.

The rate of incarceration for Indigenous adults increased to a rate of 2081 per 100,000 on 2019's figures.

Only Victoria, Western Australia and Northern Territory had improved their rates on the previous reporting period's rates.

The target aims to reduce the rate of incarceration by at least 15 per cent within the decade.

While life expectancy for Indigenous men compared to the non-Indigenous population was reduced to 8.6 years and 7.8 years for women, the report said the target of "no gap" by 2031 would not be met based on current trends.

Death from suicide has also surged in the past decade, showing no shift towards "a significant and sustained reduction in suicide towards zero".

In 2019, the suicide rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was 27.1 per 100,000 for NSW, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory combined. It marks an increase from 24.9 per 100,000 in the previous year.

On the contrary, the rates of those in youth detention, enrolments in preschool and the health of newborn babies had all improved on the previous year and were on track to reach their targets.

Labor spokesperson for Indigenous affairs Linda Burney said the new data showed little had changed over the years.

"Life expectancy; adult imprisonment; out-of-home care; and suicides, all not on track - the report doesn't really tell us anything new," she said on Thursday.

"But these are not simply statistics - these are people's lives we're talking about.

"The truth is that we have been waiting two long years after making a big commitment to a new way of collaborating - the evidence to show work will be in genuine partnership with First Nations people is still not clear."

With no historical data to compare to for the additional 11 targets introduced mid-last year, the report outlined this year's figures would be used as a baseline for future reporting.

Those targets included a reduction in family violence and abuse against women and children, access to appropriate, affordable housing and increasing the proportion Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in tertiary education and employment.

Productivity commissioner Romlie Mokak said the data on target outcomes was only preliminary with most of it only being captured over the course of 12 months.

It would likely take years before the results could provide insight into whether the outcomes were being reached, he said.

"This agreement goes further to include monitoring of government actions and how they can influence these outcomes," Mr Mokak said.

"The agreement is now 12 months old, but the most recent available data for monitoring these socioeconomic outcomes are only just hitting the commencement date for the agreement.

"It is likely to be some years before we see the influence of this agreement on these outcomes."

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The updated targets agreed to last year included four priority reforms the outcomes and targets would work toward achieving.

The priorities aim to see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people share decision-making authority with governments along with improving data sharing of Indigenous communities and building community-controlled sectors to deliver services.

Government agencies and organisations would also be held to account over how they were responding to the needs of the Indigenous community.

Data on how these priorities were tracking was not available but would be addressed in subsequent editions of the report, the commission said.

Earlier this year, Ms Burney said while the opposition supported the updated Closing the Gap agreement, it meant the government had pushed out the deadline even further.

Only two of the seven original targets had been met after a decade, she warned.

"Simply 'refreshing' the targets and setting new deadlines that are yet further away must not become a bureaucratic sleight of hand that lets this Parliament off the hook for another decade," she said in February.

"Because by then - by 2031 - a whole generation will have passed."

More than $46 million was promised in the federal government's 2020 budget over four years to partner with Indigenous organisations and help them build their capacity and business models.

The Productivity Commission was also given independent oversight of the agreement along with an extra $10.1 million over four years to help with annual progress reports and reviews.

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This story 'These are people's lives': Govt report shows rise in prison rates, suicide first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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