Closing the Gap in 2020
Closing the Gap was developed in response to the call of the Social justice report 2005 and the ‘Close the Gap’ social justice campaign. In March 2008, Australian governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people agreed ‘to work together to achieve equality in health status and life expectancy between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians by the year 2030,’ when they signed the Indigenous health equality summit statement of intent.
To monitor change, measurable targets were set to reduce inequality in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s life expectancy, children’s mortality, education and employment. The commitment focused on delivering policies and programs across fundamental ‘building blocks’ as priority areas, which would underpin improvement and every year, the Prime Minister would release a Closing the Gap report to Parliament that detailed the progress on these targets.
In February 2020, the 12th annual Closing the Gap report was tabled in parliament, outlining the progress made against these targets, set in 2008.
The report highlights that progress against Closing the Gap targets has been mixed over the past decade, with improvements in key areas but also areas of concern that require more attention. Early childhood education and Year 12 attainment targets are on track, while heartening improvements have also been made in reading and numeracy, employment and health. However, the report also clearly reveals that there is still a long way to go, with five of the seven targets not on track to be met.
Progress against the Targets
As four targets expire, improvements can be seen in key areas, but the report also highlights areas of concern that require more progress.
TARGET: 95% of all Indigenous four-year-olds enrolled in early childhood education by 2025
- In 2018, 86.4% of Indigenous four-year-olds were enrolled in early childhood education compared with 91.3% of non-Indigenous children.
- Between 2016 and 2018, the proportion of Indigenous children enrolled in early childhood education increase by almost 10 percentage points
TARGET: Halve the gap for Indigenous Australians aged 20–24 in Year 12 attainment or equivalent (by 2020)
- In 2018–19, around 66 per cent of Indigenous Australians aged 20–24 years had attained Year 12 or equivalent.
- Between 2008 and 2018–19, the proportion of Indigenous Australians aged 20–24 years attaining Year 12 or equivalent increased by around 21 percentage points. The gap has narrowed by around 15 percentage points, as non-Indigenous attainment rates have improved at a slower pace.
- The biggest improvement in Year 12 attainment rates was in Major Cities, where the gap narrowed by around 20 percentage points
TARGET: Halve the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous children under five within a decade (by 2018)
- In 2018, the Indigenous child mortality rate was 141 per 100,000—twice the rate for non-Indigenous children (67 per 100,000).
- Since the 2008 target baseline, the Indigenous child mortality rate has improved slightly, by around 7 per cent. However, the mortality rate for non-Indigenous children has improved at a faster rate and, as a result, the gap has widened.
- Some of the major health risk factors for Indigenous child mortality are improving. There is a need for further research to understand why these improvements have not translated into stronger improvements in Indigenous child mortality rates.
TARGET: Close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous school attendance within five years (by 2018)
- School attendance rates for Indigenous students have not improved over the past five years. Attendance rates for Indigenous students remain lower than for non-Indigenous students (around 82 per cent compared to 92 per cent in 2019).
- Gaps in attendance are evident for Indigenous children as a group from the first year of schooling. The attendance gap widens during secondary school.
TARGET: Halve the gap for Indigenous children in reading, writing and numeracy within a decade (by 2018)
- At the national level, the share of Indigenous students at or above national minimum standards in reading and numeracy has improved over the past decade. The gap has narrowed across all year levels by between 3 and 11 percentage points.
- Despite these improvements, in 2018 about one in four Indigenous students in Years 5, 7 and 9, and one in five in Year 3, remained below national minimum standards in reading. Between 17 to 19 per cent of Indigenous students were below the national minimum standards in numeracy. In 2018, the Indigenous employment rate was around 49 per cent compared to around 75 per cent for non-Indigenous Australians.
TARGET: Halve the gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians within a decade (by 2018)
- Over the past decade (2008–2018), the employment rate for Indigenous Australians increased slightly (by 0.9 percentage points), while for non-Indigenous Australians it fell by 0.4 percentage points. As a result, the gap has not changed markedly.
- The gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians was widest in Remote and Very Remote Australia.
TARGET: Close the life expectancy gap within a generation (by 2031)
- In 2015–2017, life expectancy at birth was 71.6 years for Indigenous males
(8.6 years less than non-Indigenous males) and 75.6 years for Indigenous females (7.8 years less than non-Indigenous females).
- Over the period 2006 to 2018, there was an improvement of almost 10 per cent
in Indigenous age-standardised mortality rates. However, non-Indigenous mortality rates improved at a similar rate, so the gap has not narrowed.
- Since 2006, there has been an improvement in Indigenous mortality rates from circulatory disease (heart disease, stroke and hypertension). However, this has coincided with an increase in cancer mortality rates, where the gap is widening
Looking to the future
In 2017, the Government began a process to refresh the Closing the Gap agenda. A Special gathering of prominent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians called for the next phase to deliver a community-led, strengths-based approach that would put Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at the centre of this new strategy.
In 2019, all levels of government and a Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Organisations signed a formal agreement to work in genuine partnership with shared accountability and joint development of an agreed framework and direction for the next 10 years.
“For the first time, we have constructed something that sits at the very centre of government and demonstrates a strong commitment to Indigenous Australians having a real say,” says Prime Minister Scott Morrison in the foreword of the 2020 Closing the Gap report.
“It’s clear we have more to do, but we must do things differently. Without a true partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, we will hamper our own progress.”
Ms Pat Turner AM, CEO of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation believes this is the first time that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak bodies from across the country have come together in this way. “[They] bring their collective expertise, experiences, and deep understanding of the needs of our people to the task of closing the gap,” she said. “ We have an unprecedented opportunity to change the lived experience of too many of our people who are doing it tough.”
The new national agreement will give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people shared ownership to improve life outcomes for current and future generations and will close off an era of reporting against targets set by governments.
“The new Joint Council on Closing the Gap is developing priorities, realistic targets and metrics that all governments and the Coalition of Peaks can commit to achieving,” said Mr Morrison in the report. “At the core of this new process is the expertise of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, guiding local action and local change.”
According to the Prime Minister, this means “expanding the opportunities for shared decision-making” and supporting local communities in setting their own priorities and tailoring services to their unique contexts.
The Indigenous-designed and led Empowered Communities initiative, which is reshaping the relationship between Indigenous communities and governments, is just one example. In a commitment to devolving decision-making as close to the ground as possible, community leaders are directly involved in making recommendations to government about how services and funding align with community priorities.
Mr Morrison says that the shared goal is for every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child to grow up with at least the same opportunities in life as every other Australian and to ensure that Indigenous Australians are genuinely positioned to make informed choices, forge their own pathways and reach their goals.
How can we help?
As an agency of the Uniting Church in Australia, Frontier Services continues to work with First Peoples across Remote Australia, as it has done for decades.
When asked about how the organisation can work towards Closing the Gap for our First Peoples, Frontier Services National Director, Jannine Jackson reflects on the fact that at the heart of Australia’s oldest bush charity, is the desire to make a connection between people.
“I believe part of our role in “closing the gap” is to continuously learn the stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and to share them with others,” says Jannine. “Our Bush Chaplain program is about supporting, listening and developing that trust within remote and Indigenous communities, so that they can share these stories, and be open about what they need to move forward.
“We dream of an Australia where our First People are cared for and supported and have a mantle of safety, well-being and equal opportunity. As our governments work towards Closing the Gap, we will continue to do our bit on the ground – to be the people who knock on the door, take the time to listen to their needs and their stories, to offer a helping hand and to be of service.”
To read the full 2020 Close the Gap Report, click here