Key Closing the Gap targets not on track, Productivity Commission finds

By Shannon Jenkins

Thursday July 29, 2021

(AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Incarceration rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults have risen, while the rates of Indigenous youth in detention have dropped, new data from the Productivity Commission has revealed.

The Productivity Commission has today released its first data report detailing progress on achieving targets under the National Agreement on Closing the Gap.

The National Agreement was launched by the government and the Coalition of Peaks last year, more than a decade after the previous Closing the Gap targets were set.

“Previous National Agreements focussed on monitoring life outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” productivity commissioner Romlie Mokak noted on Thursday.

“This agreement goes further to include monitoring of government actions and how they can influence these outcomes.”

The agreement sets out 17 socioeconomic outcomes important to the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. These outcomes relate to areas such as health, education, employment, housing, safety, and strength in culture and language.

In its new report, the Productivity Commission has assessed whether progress is on track to meet seven targets under the agreement.

It found that targets for healthy birth weights, the enrolment of children in the year before full-time schooling, and youth detention rates are on track. However, the remaining four targets are not.

Read more: New Closing the Gap targets aim to up number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages spoken, reduce incarceration and suicide rates

One target that is not on track relates to incarceration rates.

The agreement aims for the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults held in incarceration to reduce by at least 15% by 2031. The report has shown that the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners was 2081 per 100 000 adults at June 30, 2020– an increase from 2077.4 in 2019.

However, in 2019-20, the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in detention decreased from 31.9 per 10 000 young people in 2018-19, to 25.7 in 2019-20.

The report noted that the target of a ‘significant and sustained reduction’ in suicide rates of Indigenous Australians, towards zero, is not on track to be met. In 2019, the suicide rate (for NSW, Queensland, WA, SA and the NT combined) for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was 27.1 per 100 000 people — an increase from the previous year.

Rates of children in out-of-home care have also increased, with the report finding 56.3 per 1000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were in out-of-home care in 2020. This was an increase from the 2019 rates, and is not in line with the national target of a reduction by 45%.

While the data has shown that improvements in life expectancy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people since 2005−2007 have narrowed the gap to 8.6 years for boys and 7.8 years for girls in 2015−2017, the national target of ‘no gap’ is not on track to be met, the report said.

The report noted that these findings could vary over time, and ‘the current status does not mean a target will (or will not) be met in future’.

“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,” Mokak said.

The agreement also outlines four priority reforms. As the targets and indicators for the reform areas were agreed in November 2020, the Productivity Commission doesn’t yet have data for reporting on these actions, Mokak noted.

“Our initial focus will be on getting the data we need so we can track results,” he said.

Productivity Commission chair Michael Brennan said monitoring implementation of the reforms would ‘provide transparency and show whether parties to the agreement have walked the walk’.

The first annual data report has been released a month after the commission launched a dashboard that presents data on the agreement’s targets.

Read more: Productivity Commission launches dashboard for measuring Closing the Gap targets


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