By the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion
Never before has it been as obvious as it is now that a community-driven approach is the key to improving outcomes for First Australians.
From getting kids to school, to getting adults into work and making communities safer, the Australian Government is ensuring Indigenous communities are at the centre of our Indigenous Affairs agenda.
Why? Because the community-driven approach that is at the core of the initiatives we are rolling out is already working – and we know it is fundamental to further closing the gap.
I don’t wish to overstate where we are at. The eighth Closing the Gap report, to be tabled in the Australian Parliament today by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, will reveal some progress in addressing Indigenous disadvantage. But the progress is mixed and we need to continue to focus our efforts in areas we know will make the biggest difference.
We also understand there are areas where we need to speed up the pace of change and overcome entrenched attitudes that are holding back the implementation of our reform agenda. And that there are individual challenges at the family level that need to be overcome that are, for instance, preventing kids from going to school or adults from going to work.
The challenge for us is to work even closer with our service providers across the country to ensure they are doing all they can to overcome these obstacles. A better night’s sleep, a new pair of school shoes or a lunch box could be all it takes to get a kid to school.
The seven Closing the Gap targets provide an important benchmark against which governments across the country are measured annually for the progress they have made to reduce Indigenous disadvantage. There have been calls for an Indigenous justice target to be added to the list.
The argument for this makes no sense because the Australian Government has no lever it can pull to reduce incarceration rates, other than addressing the fundamental building blocks to disadvantage. The criminal justice system is a state and territory responsibility and the Commonwealth has no business interfering with the judiciary.
What might make more sense is breaking down the data that feeds into the report by individual states and territories. If a particular jurisdiction is not pulling its weight, why shouldn’t it be held to account?
The Australian Government remains firmly focused on its key Indigenous Affairs priorities.
We know if we can get kids to school so they receive a decent education, it will set them up to meet the challenges they face later in life. Before we introduced our Remote School Attendance Strategy (RSAS) a couple of years ago, school attendance by Indigenous children in many communities was going down – year-on-year-on-year.
But through the efforts of our RSAS “Yellow Shirt” teams, school staff and community leaders in 69 RSAS communities, we have arrested this decline in many schools. Not everywhere, but in enough places, particularly in Queensland, to know it is making a positive difference.
In the communities of Ngukurr in south-east Arnhem Land and Ali Curung in the Barkley region of the Northern Territory school attendance has risen 15 per cent. In Queensland, the number of children attending school has increased by 12 per cent. In other places, the results have been more patchy but this in an initiative that will take time, which is why the Government recently committed an additional $80 million for RSAS through till 2018.
On the employment front, our Community Development Programme (CDP), with “no show, no pay”, is already proving to be a success, with the number of jobseekers in activities up 50 per cent since 1 July 2015 when the programme started. Importantly, we are making sure the activities CDP participants are working on are meaningful. These activities will be ideas from the community, not from government.
In 2016 we will be building on this success and, subject to legislation passing through Parliament, reintroducing some of the best features of the old Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) programme such as the ability for participants to receive “top up” payments, weekly wages through real jobs and a simpler, more immediate and localised compliance regime.
Our Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS) is focused on delivering outcomes and is empowering Indigenous organisations. Through the IAS funding round, 46 per cent of organisations funded were Indigenous (up from 30 per cent) and they received 55 per cent of total funding. These figures are heading in the right direction and we are confident we can do even better in the future.
Our employment programmes are creating almost 50 jobs a day for First Australians and Indigenous business owners have been awarded about $40 million worth of government contracts through our Indigenous Procurement Policy so far this financial year.
This is a very exciting time to be involved in Indigenous Affairs – and my department and I have never been more committed to the portfolio. We are implementing an agenda that will deliver real results over the next couple of years and set us further along the path to closing the gap.