It has been eight years since the Closing the Gap framework was established, but only half the Closing the Gap targets are on track to be met. The Productivity Commission has expressed concern that we do not know which policies are effective. In response to high levels of Indigenous incarceration, there is strong stakeholder pressure to add an Indigenous Justice target.
The origins of Closing the Gap
In his Social
Justice Report 2005, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social
Justice Commissioner Tom Calma urged Australian governments to commit to Indigenous
health and life expectancy equality within 25 years. At the time, the gap was
thought to be 17 years; better
data has since shown it was approximately 11 years. Health and non-government
organisations (NGOs) responded with a Close
the Gap campaign in 2007, including the annual National
Close the Gap Day. The Human Rights Commission issued its own Close
the Gap reports.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson
to the goal in 2008. The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) then
committed to the six (now seven) Closing the Gap targets in the National
Indigenous Reform Agreement (NIRA). The Prime Minister reports annually to
Parliament on its progress.
Close the gap in life expectancy within a
generation (by 2031)
This target is
not on track to be met. Indigenous life expectancy is improving, and
mortality rates are decreasing, but progress is slow.
Figure 1: Indigenous and non-Indigenous life
expectancy: actual, projected and target rates
Source: Department of the Prime Minister
and Cabinet, Closing the Gap
Prime Minister’s Report 2016, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra 2016.
Halve the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous
children under five by 2018
This target is on
track to be met. Since 1998, the Indigenous child mortality rate has more
than halved from 13.5 per 1,000 live births in 1998, to 6.4 in 2014. The gap
had narrowed by 34% as at 2014. The recent National Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander Social Survey found that Indigenous
infant and maternal health has been improving.
Ensure access to early childhood education for all
Indigenous four-year-olds in remote communities by 2013
This target was
not met. In 2013, 85% of Indigenous four-year-olds in remote communities
were enrolled in early childhood education. This was a higher rate than in
major cities (67%) and regional areas (74%). The new COAG target is 95%
preschool enrolment for Indigenous four-year-olds by 2025.
Close the gap in school attendance by the end of
This target is
not on track to be met. All of the states and territories reported changes
in Indigenous attendance rates between 2014 and 2015 of less than 1%, with the
exception of the ACT (1.3% rise) and Victoria (1% rise).
Halve the gap in children’s reading, writing and
numeracy by 2018
Progress on this
target has been mixed, with half the targets on track to be met and half unmet.
Outcomes are worse for male students and decline drastically with remoteness.
Most measures are improving, but some are not improving fast enough.
Halve the gap for Indigenous students in year 12
attainment rates by 2020
This target is on
track to be met, with an increase in year 12 attainment levels from 45.4%
in 2008 to 58.5% in 2012–13. The number of students attaining year 12 was
higher in urban and regional areas. The gap narrowed by 11.6% between 2008 and
Halve the gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous
and other Australians by 2018
This target is
not on track to be met. While Indigenous employment rates are increasing,
the gap has not reduced since 2008. The Prime Minister’s report notes that
employment is closely tied to educational outcomes.
Are government programs effective?
The Productivity Commission has expressed
concern that ‘we need to know more about what works and why’. Although
Closing the Gap reports measure Indigenous outcomes, and the Indigenous
Expenditure Report measures inputs, little is known about which programs are producing
outcomes. Few programs are evaluated and evaluations rarely consider
An Indigenous Justice target?
Indigenous people make up 2% of the population, but
a quarter of adult prisoners (27%) and more
than half of young detainees (54%). High imprisonment rates drive
deaths in custody and are
associated with other poor outcomes. Indigenous organisations are calling
for a target of equal Indigenous
imprisonment rates by 2040 through Justice
Reinvestment. This is an approach
which emphasises reduced spending on corrections, with savings reinvested in preventive
strategies. This was supported by a House of
Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander Affairs committee report, Doing
Time—Time for Doing. A Justice
Reinvestment trial in Bourke (NSW) is showing good results.
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C), Closing the Gap—Prime Minister’s report, PM&C, Canberra (issued annually).
Productivity Commission (PC), Overcoming Indigenous disadvantage: key indicators, PC, Canberra.
Back to Parliamentary Library Briefing Book
For copyright reasons some linked items are only available to members of Parliament.
© Commonwealth of Australia
With the exception of the Commonwealth Coat of Arms, and to the extent that copyright subsists in a third party, this publication, its logo and front page design are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia licence.