Life Not Getting Better For Indigenous Australians: Study

Indigenous Australians are becoming more disadvantaged, with alarming increases in imprisonment rates, mental health problems and self harm, according to a damning Productivity Commission report released today.

Key points:

  • “Most comprehensive report” on Indigenous wellbeing undertaken in Australia
  • Indigenous imprisonment rates up 77pc over past 15 years
  • Commission estimates only 34 of 1,000 Indigenous programs are properly evaluated

The commission’s Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report says despite some positive trends, the plight of Indigenous Australians has “stagnated or worsened” in critical areas of wellbeing.

Among the findings, the national Indigenous imprisonment rate has surged by 77 per cent over the past 15 years and the hospitalisation rate for self harm is up by 56 per cent over the past decade.

The report points to a failure of policy and oversight, with the commission estimating only 34 of 1,000 Indigenous programs are been properly evaluated by authorities.

Productivity Commission deputy chair Karen Chester told the ABC’s AM program the findings are a wake-up call for all levels of government about the reality of Indigenous wellbeing and whether the $30 billion budget is being properly spent.

“You want to know that money is being spent not just in terms of bang for buck for taxpayers, but that we’re not short-changing Indigenous Australians,” Ms Chester said.

“Of over a thousand policies and programs, we could only identify 34 across the whole of Australia that have been robustly and transparently evaluated.

“At the end of the day, we can’t feign surprise that we’re not seeing improvement across all these wellbeing indicators if we’re not lifting the bonnet and evaluating if the policies and programs are working or not.”

The report is being billed by the commission as “compulsory reading” and the most comprehensive report on Indigenous wellbeing undertaken in Australia.

‘The clock has been ticking for a while’

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were involved in the study, which was produced by the Productivity Commission for a review into government service provision.

Despite the disturbing assessment, a number of case studies have been highlighted where good governance is contributing to the success of Indigenous organisations.

These include the Waitja Tjutangku Palyapayi Aboriginal Corporation in Central Australia, which helps communities to counter economic disadvantage, and the Marius Project in the northern Victoria town of Swan Hill.

The report says areas of health, economic participation, life expectancy and aspects of education have improved from the update two years ago, with child mortality rates narrowing between 1998 and 2014.

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The proportion of adults whose main income came from employment increased from 32 per cent in 2003 to 43 per cent in 2014-15.

But Ms Chester says it was now up to state, territory and federal governments to take the report on board to determine what is working and what is failing.

“I think the clock has been ticking for a while already,” Ms Chester said.

“We have the data, we have the analysis and we know what indicators are linked to the others.”

While the report includes case studies of examples of “things that work”, it says the small number available underscores the lack of Indigenous programs that are being rigorously evaluated for effectiveness.

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