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National Indigenous Reform Agreement - Closing the Gap

Category: Agreement
Date: November 2008
Location:Australia
Payments:
  • - Commonwealth government funding under the National Partnership Agreement on Indigenous Early Childhood Development amounts to $564.6 million over 6 years from 2008-09.
  • - Commonwealth government funding under the National Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap on Indigenous Health Outcomes amounts to $1.6 billion over 4 years from 2009-10.
  • - Commonwealth government funding under the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing amounts to $5.5 billion over 10 years from 2008-09.
  • - Commonwealth government funding under the National Partnership Agreement on Indigenous Economic Participation amounts to $228.9 million over 5 years from 2008-09.
  • - Commonwealth government funding under the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery amounts to $291.2 million over 5 years from 2009-10.
  • - Commonwealth government funding under the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Public Internet Access amounts to $7 million over 4 years from 2009-10.
  • - Commonwealth government funding under the Closing the Gap in the Northern Territory National Partnership Agreement amounts to $793.3 million over 3 years from 2009-10.
  • - Commonwealth government funding for improving the collection and reporting of data through the National Indigenous Reform Agreement amounts to $46.4 million over 4 years from 2009-10.
  • - Commonwealth government funding for the Closing the Gap Clearinghouse amounts to $1 million in 2008-09, as well as an additional $1.5 million over 3 years from 2009-10, with total funding amounting to $2.5 million over 5 years.
  • - Commonwealth government funding for capital works intended to improve health infrastructure amounts to $64.3 million over 10 years since 2000.
  • Proposed contribution - Commonwealth government funding for the Remote Service Delivery Flexible Funding Pool amounts to $46 million over 3 years from 1 July 2010.
  • Proposed contribution - Commonwealth government funding for the expansion of Link-Up Services for members of the Stolen Generations amounts to $13.8 million over 3 years from 2009-10.
  • - Commonwealth government funding for the establishment of an Indigenous women's forum by the new National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women's Alliance amounts to $600,000 over 3 years from March 2010.
  • - Commonwealth government funding for the establishment of the National Congress of Australia's First People's amounts to $6 million over 6 months for the implementation stage, and $23.2 million over 4 years for the operation of the new body.
  • Subject Matter:Economic Development | Education | Employment and Training | Health and Community Services | Housing, Construction and Infrastructure
    URL: http://www.federalfinancialrelations.gov.au/content/national_agreements/downloads/IGA_FFR_ScheduleF_National_Indigenous_Reform_Agreement_Feb_2011.pdf
    Summary Information:
    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:

  • to close the life-expectancy gap within a generation;

  • to halve the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous children under five within a decade;

  • to ensure access to early childhood education for all Indigenous four years olds in remote communities within five years;

  • to halve the gap in reading, writing and numeracy achievements for children within a decade;

  • to halve the gap for Indigenous students in Year 12 (or equivalent) attainment rates by 2020 (amended to 2015 in April 2009); and

  • to halve the gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians within a decade.


  • 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).
    Detailed Information:
    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:

  • a comprehensive national action plan backed by government funding that seeks to achieve equality in health and other outcomes by 2031;

  • an emphasis on cooperation between Indigenous people and the Australian governments;

  • a targeted approach to achieving equality in particular outcomes; and

  • funding and other support for Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (Australian Human Rights Commission).


  • 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.

    Accountability

    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:

  • The use of Indigenous-specific performance indicators: this will allow the assessment of progress towards the six 'Closing the Gap' targets to be undertaken by the COAG Reform Council on the basis of the difference between Indigenous and non-Indigenous outcomes for each indicator (Clause 25).

  • Regular progress reporting at national and state and territory level: the Prime Minister reports to Parliament on progress against each 'Closing the Gap' target at the beginning of the parliamentary year, while the COAG Reform Council reports to COAG. Links to copies of the two most recent Prime Minister's reports on 'Closing the Gap' have been provided below. A link has also been provided for the first COAG Reform Council report, which was dated 30 April 2010 and released in June 2010.

  • Reporting on spending on Indigenous services: COAG's Indigenous Expenditure Report Steering Committee is now developing a framework for reporting on government expenditure in the area of Indigenous services (Macklin, Budget 2010-11, 2010). The Commonwealth Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs also makes an annual Budget statement on 'Closing the Gap', with a link to the most recent statement provided below.


  • 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:

  • early childhood;

  • schooling;

  • health;

  • economic participation;

  • healthy homes;

  • safe communities; and

  • governance and leadership.


  • 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:

  • the National Partnership on Closing the Gap in Indigenous Health Outcomes (December 2008);

  • the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing (December 2008);

  • Closing the Gap: the National Partnership Agreement on Indigenous Early Childhood Development (July 2009);

  • the National Partnership Agreement on Indigenous Economic Participation (December 2008);

  • the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery (December 2008);

  • Closing the Gap: the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Public Internet Access (July 2009); and

  • the Closing the Gap in the Northern Territory National Partnership Agreement (July 2009).


  • 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:

  • Schedule A - National Integrated Strategy for Closing the Gap in Indigenous Disadvantage: this strategy provides an overview of how the National Partnerships and National Agreements make a joint contribution to 'Closing the Gap', and includes a background to the six 'Closing the Gap' targets;

  • Schedule B - National Urban and Regional Service Delivery Strategy for Indigenous Australians: this strategy aims to use Indigenous and mainstream National Agreements and National Partnerships to improve outcomes for Indigenous Australians in urban and regional locations;

  • Schedule C - Closing the Gap in Indigenous Life Outcomes: this Schedule matches the Building Blocks in Clause 8 with the desired outcomes in each area and the COAG policy and reform commitments that are currently in place with respect to these outcomes;

  • Schedule D - service delivery principles for programs and services for Indigenous Australians;

  • Schedule E - National Investment Principles in Remote Locations;

  • Schedule F - Agreed data quality improvements that are required to measure progress towards the 'Closing the Gap' targets;

  • Schedule G - Progress towards the 'Closing the Gap' targets: this Schedule sets out the national trajectories for each target; and

  • Schedule H - National Food Security Strategy.


  • 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.
    Outcomes:
    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).

    Other perspectives

    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).

    Related Entries

    Agreement
  • Illawarra Regional Partnership Agreement (RPA)
  • Murdi Paaki Regional Partnership Agreement (RPA)
  • Many Rivers Regional Partnership Agreement (RPA)
  • Tanami Regional Partnership Agreement (RPA)
  • Organisation
  • Council of Australian Governments
  • Commonwealth of Australia - Signatory
  • State of Victoria - Signatory
  • State of New South Wales - Signatory
  • State of Queensland - Signatory
  • State of South Australia - Signatory
  • State of Western Australia - Signatory
  • State of Tasmania - Signatory
  • Northern Territory of Australia - Signatory
  • Australian Capital Territory - Signatory
  • Dare to Lead for Business

  • References

    General Reference
    The Hon Jenny Macklin MP (11 May 2010) Budget Statement 2010-2011: Closing the Gap Between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians
    Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) (Cth) (2009) Closing the Gap: the Indigenous Reform Agenda
    Fact Sheet
    Council of Australian Governments (29 November 2008) Fact Sheet: National Indigenous Reform Agreement
    Journal Article
    Ann Ingamells (2010) Closing the Gap: Some Unsettling Assumptions
    Jon C. Altman, Nicholas Biddle and Boyd H. Hunter (November 2009) Prospects for 'Closing the Gap' in Socioeconomic Outcomes for Indigenous Australians?
    Media Release
    The Hon Jenny Macklin MP (11 May 2010) Closing the Gap - Strengthening Indigenous Communities
    Newspaper Article
    ABC News (26 February 2009) Rudd Defends Progress on Closing the Gap
    ABC News (9 February 2011) Close the Gap Progress Branded 'Underwhelming'
    Wesley Aird (13 February 2010) Rudd's Closing the Gap Mission Can Only Get Harder From Here
    Natasha Robinson (5 December 2009) Data Gap Slows Progress in Indigenous Health
    The Sydney Morning Herald (5 April 2008) Rudd Pledges to 'Close the Gap'
    Steven Schubert (12 February 2010) Sorry, But the Gap is Not Closing
    ABC Western Plains (14 February 2011) Progress on Closing the Gap on Indigenous Disadvantage
    Noel Pearson (24 July 2010) Adam Smith and Closing the Gap
    The Sydney Morning Herald (19 August 2010) Closing the Gap a Priority for Labor: PM
    Report
    Commonwealth of Australia (February 2009) Closing the Gap on Indigenous Disadvantage: the Challenge for Australia
    Commonwealth of Australia (2010) Closing the Gap - Prime Minister's Report 2010
    Commonwealth of Australia (2011) Closing the Gap - Prime Minister's Report 2011
    Council of Australian Governments Reform Council (30 April 2010) National Indigenous Reform Agreement: Baseline Performance Report for 2008-09
    Resource
    Australian Human Rights Commission Close the Gap: Campaign for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Equality by 2030

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