By leave—I move:
That the Senate take note of Closing the Gap Prime Minister’s Report of 2012.
This is a very important report. Indigenous disadvantage and Indigenous disconnect are the reality in many parts of Australia and require a commitment not only from individuals but from governments at all levels of Australia to address. When the previous Prime Minister, Prime Minister Rudd, made a commitment to produce a report on the first day of parliament in every parliamentary sitting year on the status of closing the gap, this commitment was certainly welcomed across the political divide. It was viewed as an opportunity to assess how government programs are working, what the community acceptance involvement is and whether or not we are actually closing the gap. Unfortunately, most of the reports to date have concentrated on inputs: how much money has been allocated or spent and how many initiatives have been announced. I have to say in defence of the Labor Party that in the first couple years I could probably understand why that might be the case; we have to get a database. But we have been at this for some time now and it has become apparent that the government now seems to believe that the hard work stops when the announcement has been made. I think all Australians would know that in fact the opposite is true.
An example is the government’s $100 million Indigenous antismoking initiative. We know exactly what is being spent, but we have no real idea about how it is actually working. We do not know—neither does the government—the exact details of what is happening. We have the details of how much money is invested but absolutely no details at all about how many people have stopped smoking, how many people are attempting to stop smoking or the variety of communication mechanisms between Indigenous Australia and the government. Why can we not be told about the effect of the program? After spending the amount of $100 million one would expect that we would know what works and does not work. By the time we get to the end of the program it is going to be too hard to make any changes, so we definitely need some interim targets as the long-term closing the gaptargets of 10 to 20 years will mean nothing if we cannot assess how we went last year or will go in the next year. The important trend lines, particularly in closing the gap, are something that I do not think we have developed fast enough and are certainly something that we really need.
An example of that is the halving of the gap on year 12 completion by 2020. At the moment, we measure how many people will graduate this year and then we try to do a projection which is, in my view, pretty worthless. There is a much better way to do it. What we need to do is measure how many kids are in and passing grade 5 this year, because they are going to be the same students who will go through year 12 in 2020. The reason I use that particular example is that attendance records and NAPLAN results for that particular age group indicate that we have already failed to meet the 2020 target. The number of kids who have been retained in year 5 and who are actually passing year 5 is not even at 50 per cent, so we have clearly failed the target already and do not have to wait until 2020 and say, ‘Oh, we’ve got it wrong. Let’s go and do something more about it.’ It is very important that we change that approach. The Closing the gapreport needs to highlight all of this information as well in the glossy brochures. It has plenty of pictures but very little qualitative data, and that needs to change. It does a disservice to both the Australian public, who want action, and Indigenous Australians, who deserve action.
The Closing the gapreport should also contain data that describes where we are right now. There should be data not designed to attribute blame or shame people but to remind Australia why we need to work so hard to address disadvantage and disconnection. It should be data, disturbing as it may be to some, such as that provided by the Children’s Commissioner, Dr Howard Bath. This data was provided in Dr Bath’s submission to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry into the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Bill 2011 and two related bills, and it is a salient reminder about why we must continue to intervene in Indigenous affairs. The Australian Early Development Index, the AEDI, provides a population based developmental assessment of children in their first year of school. It explains that those with multiple developmental vulnerabilities will require special assistance in order to benefit from regular schooling and all the lifelong benefits that schooling provides.
To get an idea, across Australia, 11.8 per cent of children have multiple developmental vulnerabilities—and one of the fundamentals of that is that if you are raised in an environment where you feel safe and confident then you will not fall into multiple development vulnerability. Within the Northern Territory, 46.8 per cent—that is nearly half—of all Indigenous children have developmental vulnerability on more than one developmental domain. That is half of Indigenous children across the entire Territory, but in remote communities the number of children assessed as having multiple development vulnerabilities is far worse. Research has indicated that close to 60 per cent of the children in the Northern Territory emergency response zone—that is, the remote communities and the town camps—have multiple developmental vulnerabilities as they enter the school system. So 60 per cent are significantly behind the eight ball before they enter the school system. If we look at the NAPLAN results and the attendance results—and this is all to do with it—we understand why they find it so very hard to complete an education or, in many cases, as we have seen up to year 5, attempt to start one.
It is a lot harder to identify and access these children who we need to make a concerted effort to help because they are in these remote communities. Developmental vulnerabilities are significant but there are a lot of other significant issues that contribute to the disadvantage and disconnect experienced by Indigenous Australians. One of those is the exposure to alcohol abuse and general violence. Dr Bath stated, ‘One of the hazards facing children that receives less attention because it is somewhat hard to measure and difficult to talk about publicly is the impact of the exposure of children to chronic family and community violence.’ You will remember that I spoke a little earlier, Mr Acting Deputy President Back, about the multiple presentation of dysfunctionality and the association with feeling safe. When we look at this, I think one of the most important areas of vulnerability is the exposure to general abuse and violence not only of the children but of the whole family. Just as a statistic, most night patrols that were funded as part of the Northern Territory emergency response are the first response to individual and community violence. In 2010 the patrols responded—and this is for a target population of 29,000 adults, and for violent episodes—to 100,000 incidents. Recent Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data indicate that Indigenous people in the Northern Territory are hospitalised for assault at twice the rate of Indigenous people in other parts of Australia. Of particular concern is the vulnerability of women and children. Indigenous women are hospitalised for assault at an alarming rate, 69 times that of other women in the Northern Territory. Around 2.5 per cent of all Indigenous women in the Northern Territory are hospitalised for assault each year. We can make some comparisons. For example, in New South Wales there are 2½ times more Indigenous people than there are in the Northern Territory. In the two-year period to 2008, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare records that 635 Indigenous women were hospitalised for assault in New South Wales. For the same period, for half the number of people, in the Northern Territory 1,729 women were hospitalised. In many of these violent incidents, children are present, witnessing, experiencing and absorbing the impact of this violence. I welcome the Closing the gap report, but as I have indicated the document is more noteworthy for what it does not say than for what it does.
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120227 Ministerial Statement – Closing the Gap.pdf