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Still from 'Redfern Now'. Photo: Blackfella Films
Still from 'Redfern Now'. Photo: Blackfella Films

Indigenous gap closing at snail’s pace

“The higher the level of education, the smaller the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous employment,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said at an event for Indigenous high achievers at Parliament House on Monday 13 February 2017.

“For tertiary-educated Indigenous people, there is no gap.”

Sadly, for non-tertiary-educated Indigenous people, a wide berth remains. This was starkly illustrated by the government’s ninth annual Closing the Gap report. Just one of seven governmental objectives are on track to be met by their set dates.

Targets that might miss their mark include halving Indigenous child mortality by 2018, and increasing Indigenous preschool attendance to 95 per cent by 2025. Only year 12 attainment looked likely to reach its goal: the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students being halved by 2020.

“We have not come far enough,” Turnbull said in his address to parliament.

Like the prime minster, a coalition of advocacy organisations also aren’t satisfied with the report. They are using its publication to highlight their Redfern Statement – a call for the government to get Indigenous policy right, including in early learning.

Released in June last year, the statement, spearheaded by the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples and signed by over 50 Indigenous and non-Indigenous organisations, urges the government to be more inclusive of Indigenous views in forming policies for those communities.

It also appeals for the restoration of $534 million that was cut from the Indigenous Affairs portfolio under the Abbott government, and further funding for the foundation of new, national Indigenous bodies.

Childcare-wise, this means a request for 20 hours of unconditional, subsidised access to early learning for all Indigenous children; Indigenous owned and led services; and a national group to govern these initiatives. In justifying these suggestions, the statement’s authors noted it was not just about the kids.

“Research … demonstrates that early childhood services have the greatest impacts for vulnerable families, providing long-term wellbeing, productivity and cost benefits for society,” they said.

“They provide gateways for families to a range of integrated support services and act as the best preventative measure to strengthen families and prevent child abuse and neglect.”

Gerry Moore is the chief executive of the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC), a party to the Redfern statement. He was disappointed by this year’s Closing the Gap report.

“It’s not much different from last year,” he said.

He was due to meet with education minster Simon Birmingham yesterday to petition for 20 hours of subsidised childcare a week for vulnerable Indigenous children.

The government is currently proposing a minimum of 12 hours of such care.

As for Indigenous-led early learning, Moore said the foundations have been laid; it’s funding that’s needed.

“We’re trying to convince the government to strengthen what’s already there.”

Last year’s Closing the Gap report showed only 75 per cent of Indigenous children attended preschool, compared to the national average of 96 per cent. While this year’s figures haven’t been released, it is understood they are not on course.

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