|Print this page|
National Indigenous Reform Agreement - Closing the Gap
|Click this link to search this location with google maps|
|Subject Matter:||Economic Development | Education | Employment and Training | Health and Community Services | Housing, Construction and Infrastructure|
|The National Indigenous Reform Agreement was agreed in November 2008 by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), which is comprised of the Commonwealth government and the governments of each of Australia's states and territories. This agreement sets out an ingegrated intergovernmental reform strategy intended to reduce Indigenous disadvantage by 'Closing the Gap' between life expectancy, health, education and employment outcomes for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. |
The task of 'Closing the Gap' refers to six specific targets that were endorsed by COAG in 2008. As set out in Clause 19 of the National Indigenous Reform Agreement, these targets are:
The National Indigenous Reform Agreement endorses these targets and provides an overarching summary of the action being taken against each of them through various National Agreements and National Partnership Agreements entered into by Australia's Commonwealth and state governments (COAG, 2008).
|Background to the National Indigenous Reform Agreement and the 'Closing the Gap' strategy|
The six targets behind the 'Closing the Gap' strategy have been developed as part of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) reform agenda, and endorsed in COAG's Closing the Gap on Indigenous Disadvantage Statement on 26 March 2008. These targets are intended to address a significant discrepancy between the life outcomes experienced by Indigenous people and those of other Australians. As outlined in a Commonwealth government report titled Closing the Gap on Indigenous Disadvantage: the Challenge for Australia (2009), this discrepancy takes shape through comparatively low literacy and numeracy rates, high chronic disease, mental illness and hospitalisation rates and generally poorer living standards among Australia's Indigenous population (4). Figures published by the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs indicate that this 'gap' also involves a significant difference in life expectancy, a higher infant mortality rate and a lower rate of participation in early childhood education and employment (FaHCSIA, 2009).
In response to this discrepancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous living standards, COAG agreed in December 2007 to a partnership that would enable all levels of government to work together with Indigenous communities to 'Close the Gap' in Indigenous disadvantage. According to the Australian Human Rights Commission's community guide on 'Closing the Gap', the ensuing strategy has four key elements:
The Australian governments' commitment to this strategy took shape with the signing of the National Indigenous Reform Agreement, which is intended to provide an integrated framework for the objectives, outcomes, performance indicators and benchmarks to which the COAG parties have agreed in fulfilment of their part in 'Closing the Gap'. This agreement is to be implemented consistently with the National Agreements and National Partnership Agreements that have already been entered into by the parties.
Content and goals of the National Indigenous Reform Agreement
Clause 6 of the National Indigenous Reform Agreement describes it as 'a living document subject to enhancement over time to reflect additions and changes to existing and new National Agreements and National Partnership agreements'. The agreement may be amended with the consent of affected states and territories, whenever new COAG reforms and agreements need to be taken into account.
Pursuant to Clause 23, each party to the National Indigenous Reform Agreement 'commits to be accountable to the community for achieving outcomes in its area of responsibility (consistent with roles and responsibilities outlined in other COAG National Agreements and National Partnership agreements).'
This agreement has been described by COAG as 'a mechanism for improved accountability by governments for performance against the Closing the Gap targets' (COAG, 2008, 1). It supports the following measures for improving accountability, among others:
Integration of 'Closing the Gap' reforms
In recognition of the fact that 'overcoming Indigenous disadvantage will require a sustained effort from all levels of government', the National Indigenous Reform Agreement sets out seven strategic 'Building Blocks' towards which action will be directed in order to achieve the six 'Closing the Gap' targets (Macklin, Budget 2010-11, 2010). As set out in Clause 8, these Building Blocks are:
Each of these building blocks is then supported through the various National Partnership Agreements and National Agreements that are brought together under the National Indigenous Reform Agreement framework. These subsidiary agreements have been endorsed by COAG, and include the following:
These National Partnerships are intended to add to existing initiatives that address the six COAG criteria for 'Closing the Gap', and are backed by the funding commitments outlined above under 'Payments'. Meanwhile, the National Agreements deal with mainstream funding and service delivery (FaHCSIA, 2009).
Schedules to the National Indigenous Reform Agreement
The National Indigenous Reform Agreement includes the following schedules:
Subsidiary agreements and initiatives
A number of initiatives and collaborative agreements build on these strategies and policies in order to implement the commitments made in the National Indigenous Reform Agreement and its 'Closing the Gap' framework.
Overarching Bilateral Indigenous Plans
These Plans are agreed between the Commonwealth government and the governments of individual states and territories, replacing former Overarching Bilateral Indigenous Agreements. They seek to realise the objectives of the National Indigenous Reform Agreement by promoting bilateral governance, introducing new mechanisms for improving data and furthering the implementation of the National Urban and Regional Service Delivery Strategy as well as Indigenous-specific National Partnerships.
Regional Partnership Agreements
There are a number of Regional Partnership Agreements (RPAs) that seek to achieve outcomes based on the six COAG targets for 'Closing the Gap'. These include the Murdi Paaki Regional Partnership Agreement and the Illawarra Regional Partnership Agreement, for which links have been provided below.
|Closing the Gap - Prime Minister's Report 2011|
The Commonwealth government released the latest Prime Minister's report on 'Closing the Gap' in 2011. In presenting this report, Prime Minister Julia Gillard stated that the goal of closing the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians would be very difficult to achieve by the target date of 2031 (ABC News, 9 February 2011).
The Prime Minister's report lists the investments that have been made by the COAG parties in each of the Building Block areas identified in the National Indigenous Reform Agreement. It also assesses the performance of Indigenous-specific indicators against the six COAG targets for 'Closing the Gap' as follows:
Life expectancy target:
The current mortality gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians is at 11.5 years for males and 9.7 years for females, with about 70% of this discrepancy caused by chronic diseases. An $805.5 million Indigenous Chronic Disease Package is now being implemented to address this issue (Commonwealth Government, 2011, 12).
Child mortality target:
The gap in mortality rates for children under five has fallen in recent years after reaching a baseline gap of 121 deaths per 100,000 children in 2008. This improvement has been attributed to improved sanitation and neonatal intensive care, as well as the introduction of immunisation and intervention programs (Commonwealth Government, 2011, 13).
Early childhood education target
In 2009, 64% of Indigenous children were enrolled in preschool, as compared with 70% of all children. This gap in early childhood education access is being addressed through a number of programs including the $955 million Early Childhood Education Partnership and the $293 million National Partnership Agreement on Indigenous Early Childhood Development (Commonwealth Government, 2011, 14).
Literacy and numeracy target
The main strategy for closing the gap in reading, writing and numerical skills involves the measurement of 12 separate goals for Years 3, 5, 7, and 9 by the National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN). So far, this program has reported a drop in the literacy gap for Years 3 and 5 between 2008 and 2009 (Commonwealth Government, 2011, 14).
Year 12 attainment target
Figures show that 47.4% of Indigenous Australians aged between 20 and 24 achieved a Year 12 or equivalent qualification in 2006, compared to 83.8% of non-Indigenous Australians in the same age group. However, the retention rate for Indigenous students from Years 7 and 8 to Year 12 has risen from 30.7% in 1995 to 45.4% in 2009, suggesting that improvements have been made in this area. The rates for Indigenous participation in vocational education programs have also been relatively high (Commonwealth Government, 2011, 16).
Employment outcomes target
The employment gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians remains significant, with the Prime Minister's Report noting that improvements in literacy and numeracy will need to be made before this issue can be addressed (Commonwealth Government, 2011, 17). However, between 2002 and 2008 the proportion of Indigenous Australians aged between 15 and 64 with a job went up from 48.2% to 53.8%, while the unemployment rate for Indigenous Australians in the same age group fell from 23% to 16.6% (17).
The 'Closing the Gap' strategy has drawn a mixed response in the media, delivering what Wesley Aird describes as 'only modest improvements in indigenous disadvantage' despite significant financial investment by the government (Aird, 2010).
Some sources have acknowledged the overall benefits of the government's commitment to 'Closing the Gap' (ABC Western Plains, 2011; ABC News, 9 February 2011). Others, however, have expressed a number of concerns about the level of progress achieved so far. For example, Wesley Aird has argued that 'Closing the Gap' risks being reduced to a merely aspirational policy if the government succumbs to the temptation to draw out the deadlines for the achievement of the COAG targets (Aird, 2010). In another article published in The Australian, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda has suggested that it is difficult to measure the actual results of investments made by the government (ABC News, 9 February 2009). Noel Pearson has also taken a negative perspective on the government's approach to 'Closing the Gap', arguing that the strategy 'does not have the philosophical and policy rigour to achieve its stated intent' (Pearson, 2010).
Was this useful? Click here to fill in the ATNS survey