ABC News Radio

Release Date: 
12 February 2020

Sandy Aloisi Australia's latest report card on indigenous disadvantage shows just two of seven goals are on track. The Closing the Gap targets were established by the Rudd government and Prime Minister Scott Morrison will today deliver this year's report. Stay with us, we'll speak to the Indigenous Affairs Minister very shortly. And polling in the United States suggests Democrat Bernie Sanders is likely to win today's key primary vote in New Hampshire, potentially boosting his campaign to face President Donald Trump at November's election. As we're reporting, Prime Minister Scott Morrison will today deliver the 12th annual Closing the Gap report, which is understood to show a number of key targets not being met. Initiative is aimed at improving the life expectancy and outcomes of Indigenous Australians. The latest report card is expected to show that Aboriginal children still trailed far behind non-Indigenous children in literacy, numeracy and writing skills. The Indigenous Affairs Minister is Ken Wyatt and he joins us now. Minister, good morning. Thank you for your time.

Minister Wyatt Good morning, Sandy. It's a pleasure to be with you.

Sandy Aloisi Let's look at the positive first. Two of seven targets on track, not a terrific outcome, but that means that pre-school education and Year 12 attainment; those targets are being met. That certainly is good news, isn't it?

Minister Wyatt It is, and in particularly early childhood because that is the foundation pathway into the schooling journey. And I'm really pleased that we've met that ninety five per cent target. We have to retain those children and work on the other areas that are important in terms of health, child mortality, literacy, numeracy, school attendance and employment.

Sandy Aloisi Why do you think only two of these seven targets are on track? Minister, why are we so slow in Closing the Gap?

Minister Wyatt Well, there's multiple factors. We don't deliver the services on the ground. We've got to work much more closely with States and Territories. The Aboriginal communities must be involved in this process; our peaks is certainly involved. But at the local levels, that's where we have to turn our attention to, because parents are the first educators in a child's life. Community is important. We don't engage with them as well as we should. And certainly in the refresh of the Closing the Gap, working with the 47 peak organisations, we're having very real talks around how do we change the agenda?

Sandy Aloisi How can the community, these communities, help increase the targets or help us get to those targets, particularly in terms of health and jobs? How would you like to see a community based initiative work?

Minister Wyatt Well, I think that what we need to do is ask the question of why children aren't attending schools and talk with parents. Because there has to be factors for them to disengage. The other is working with parents on reading programs, literacy, numeracy programs that would help. Simple strategies that would engage them in acquiring the number of words that they need by year one. And that that means we need to spend some time, given that many communities have been entrenched in levels of disparity for a very long time. And so that's where I see the crux of change occurring. But equally for our institutions and by this I mean schools, mainstream health services, community controlled, all of those working very closely with parents.

Sandy Aloisi And I'm looking at the aim to halve the gap in employment levels between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. We need a decade that's also fallen short. Indigenous employment rates in 2018 at 49 per cent compared to 75 per cent for non-indigenous Australians. That's still a fairly large gap we have to breach, isn't it?

Minister Wyatt It is. And I think one of the challenges we have, too, is the skills mix in some of those applying for jobs. We have to look at the bridges to full time employment. We've got to factor into that remote and isolated communities where there are not the types of jobs that we take for granted in many other parts of Australia. But I want us to acknowledge the corporate sector who are making every endeavor. Companies like Wesfarmers, some of the banks and many other organisations that are bringing young indigenous people into their organisations and their skilling them. And that's beyond the mining sector. But we still have a long way to go in terms of even the public sector of every State and Territory government and the Australian government.

Sandy Aloisi And Minister, I know there's no quick fix. But what would you like to see, perhaps, done in the short term to try and improve things?

Minister Wyatt Well, I think we need to look at all the range of opportunities that exist. We need to also look at what is evolving in the northern Australian strategy to young indigenous Australians in the top end of our country can be skilled and become involved in. I was working very closely with Matt Canavan, and I'm looking forward to working with Keith Pitt, who has responsibility in his portfolio for this area. So we can build on pathways to employment. And that doesn't take my focus away from rural and regional Australia nor from capital cities. We still have a lot more to do.

Sandy Aloisi And it's the very remoteness that some of these communities one of the major problems?

Minister Wyatt Well, it is when you think of (inaudible), which is on the W.A/NT. border. The jobs there are limited, so I need to look at how CDP can be much more effective than what it currently is and how we use service provision jobs such as education, health, disability services. How we can engage CDP workers on a full time/part time basis. So that they have the same entitlements but are having a real job that makes a difference at their community level. But will take a lot of work, and certainly I want community to consider that. And I'd want them to be party to whatever we consider in that context because it is challenging. But we have untapped raw talent in this country amongst the 800,000 Indigenous Australians.

Sandy Aloisi Minister, good to speak with you. Possibly the thirteenth annual Closing the Gap report will show some improvement. Many thanks for your time.

Minister Wyatt My pleasure Sandy.