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Australia marked down on tackling Indigenous disadvantage

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A Productivity Commission analysis shows Australia is set to fall short of key targets to reduce indigenous disadvantage.

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The respected body’s findings have prompted Indigenous advocates to say help is needed on the ground, not just in terms of targets, to stop Aboriginal Australians ending up in child protection and jail and dying sooner.

The commission has uncovered data showing Australia is failing in attempts to tackle indigenous disadvantage.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander boys and girls born between 2015 and 2017 are expected to live 8.6 and 7.8 fewer years, respectively, than non-Indigenous children.

While the gap has lessened compared to a decade prior, Australia is not on track to close it by 2031, a Productivity Commission analysis released on Thursday showed.

Another target, to achieve a significant and sustained reduction in the Indigenous suicide rate, was also set to be missed.

It rose from 24.9 to 27.1 per 100,000 people across all states and territories except Tasmania and the ACT between 2018 and 2019.

Also off track were attempts to reduce the rate of indigenous children in out-of-home-care by 45 per cent and adults in jail by 15 per cent.

Children represented 56.3 per 1000 of those in out-of-home care last year, up from 54.2 in 2019.

Over the same period, the rate of adults in the prison population rose from 2077.4 to 2081.1 per 100,000 to June 2020.

The peak body advocating for indigenous children and their families said setting targets alone would not lead to change.

“Our people have said it for a long time; change can only happen through shared decision-making and genuine partnership with our communities,” Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care chief executive Catherine Liddle said.

“This includes continuing to work with our sectors to ensure they are prioritised as the experts in delivering culturally and locally appropriate services to our families.”

The Productivity Commission measured progress on 17 targets around indigenous health and wellbeing, some of which were improving.

It came off the back of a national agreement with indigenous community organisations in 2020.

The rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in youth detention dropped, from 31.9 to 25.7 per 10,000, between 2018 and 2020.

Australia was expected to meet its aim of reducing the rate by at least 30 per cent within the next decade.

Greens senator Lidia Thorpe said Aboriginal children were brutalised and abused in custody.

She pointed to a $35 million class action settlement over mistreatment at the Northern Territory’s Don Dale youth detention centre.

“Even if you’ve never been to jail, if you’re Aboriginal in Australia you probably know someone who has,” Senator Thorpe said.

Labor spokeswoman Linda Burney said better investment in jobs, housing and more ambition in justice improvements were needed.

Meanwhile, the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander babies born at a healthy birthrate was expected to reach a target of 91 per cent by 2031.

Early childhood education rates rose to 93.1 per cent last year, and were expected to reach 95 per cent by 2025.

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