The seventh Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage Report from the Productivity Commission has found significant progress has been made across education, health and economic participation.
Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, said the progress was the result of concerted effort across Government, but a great deal more needed to be done to address Indigenous disadvantage, including building the evidence of what worked.
“Importantly – and sometimes I think we focus too much on the negatives – there are positives to take out of this report. Significant progress has been made, specifically in reducing mortality rates of children, increasing Year 12 attainment rates and improving Indigenous employment rates over the long term. This is good news and should be celebrated,” Minister Scullion said.
“I am pleased to see that the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are self-employed has almost doubled since the last report. And that the Government’s Indigenous Procurement Policy is highlighted as an example of what works to stimulate Indigenous entrepreneurship and business development.
“The progress we have made in these areas is a positive development and critical to overcoming Indigenous disadvantage, but that’s not to say there is not more to be done.”
Minister Scullion also acknowledged that in the areas of incarceration, domestic violence, mental health and substance misuse, increased effort was required to improve outcomes – and better evidence was needed to drive this progress.
“The outcomes in mental health are disturbing, with an increase in psychological distress and hospitalisation for self-harm. This is a national issue, affecting far too many Australians and the need for decisive action is reflected in the Coalition Government’s commitment to invest $192 million in mental health and suicide prevention,” Minister Scullion said.
“Until recently, there has not been sufficient investment in evidence to drive Indigenous-specific mental health and suicide prevention responses. That’s why we commissioned the $2 million ATSISPEP report released last week. This is a fundamental first step – a partnership between Government and Indigenous leaders and academics, which provides unprecedented evidence in this space that will inform how funding decisions are made.”
Minister Scullion said it was also important that individual programmes within the Indigenous Affairs portfolio were properly evaluated to determine their effectiveness.
“Of critical importance here is the need for all governments to work closely with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to identify local, practical solutions that work,” Minister Scullion said.
“The Coalition Government is working hard to build a better evidence base than there has been previously for Indigenous Affairs. We are increasing the use of quantitative data and using a variety of mechanisms to evaluate the success of individual Indigenous Affairs programmes.
“We’ve allocated $4.5 million for this financial year alone to look at the effectiveness of individual grant projects. We are also undertaking a major evaluation of the Community Development Programme. This evaluation involves detailed analysis of quantitative data and, importantly, works with programme participants in communities to understand how things are working locally.
“We are also undertaking randomised control trials to assess the impact of individual programmes such as the Prisoner Throughcare Programme in the Northern Territory and of the School Enrolment and Attendance Measure.
“We are unashamedly committed to working with First Australians, in genuine partnership, to ensure policies and programmes are effective. For too long, Canberra has been coming up with solutions that aren’t underpinned by a strong understanding of what is happening out in communities. We are determined to listen and understand to ensure we get it right.”
The biennial report is commissioned by all Australian governments to measure progress in addressing Indigenous disadvantage across early childhood, economic, health, education, safety and governance indicators. The report is available here.