Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage 2009 Report

E & OE – Proof only

JENNY MACKLIN: Good morning everyone. Thanks everyone for being here today. And if I could first of all start by introducing Gary Banks from the Productivity Commission and to thank Gary and his staff for the excellent work that they’ve done producing this next volume of the report Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage. And in a moment Gary will take you through some of the most significant findings of this latest piece of work from the Productivity Commission. And we are very grateful for all of the hard work that his staff have put in. It is critical that we are able to measure the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. To measure the gap and to measure the progress that we are seeing or not seeing in our attempts to close the life expectancy gap, the gap in infant mortality rate, the gaps in education achievements, the gaps in employment. The Council of Australian Governments have set very very tough targets for us to meet. Very tough targets that are essential if we’re to see this gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians close. It’s only if we measure the gap and measure how we’re progressing that we can tell whether or not what we’re doing is successful. If the gap isn’t closing in the future we of course reassess what our progress is, reassess the measures we’re implementing to make sure that we continue on the path to close this very serious life expectancy gap, employment gap, education gap, that exists between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. I’ll make a few more remarks after Gary Banks has taken you through the details of the report but I just want to emphasise how critical it is that we have this data, that we improve the data that is available to us so we can measure the progress to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Thank you Gary.

GARY BANKS: Thank you Minister. I’m pleased to be here to be able to release the fourth Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report to coincide with the COAG meeting that’s focussing on this important issue. Minister Macklin as Chair of the Working Group on Indigenous Reform has played a key role actually in the revised framework that’s in this report, this fourth report, which picks up on the COAG targets and integrates it into the framework of the report. The report, or the series of reports was commissioned by COAG back in 2002 and it’s come out every two years since then. It, I think, reflects a new commitment by all Australian Governments collectively. It’s not only aspired to reducing Indigenous disadvantage but also to measure their performance in a concrete way, in a periodically produced report, produced independently with the best available data. So I think that’s been a very important watershed in terms of the prospects going forward compared to what we observed in the past.

The framework, it’s not just another report full of data, there are plenty of reports that have got lots of data in them but what distinguishes this report that it has the strategic framework focussed on prevention, and has indicators in areas where the governments and Indigenous people have agreed those areas are important to make a difference to higher levels of disadvantage. It has its origins in work by the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation and by the Ministerial Council on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. And very detailed consultations that the Productivity Commission Secretariat to the COAG Steering Committee did in the early days and every time you put out a report we go out and talk to Indigenous people again to get their views about the report and how we can refine and do it better.

Well what does this report actually say, this fourth report? No one here will be surprised by the fact that it still reveals quite wide gaps in outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. It also shows mixed progress in terms of the challenge referred to by the Minister of closing the gaps. In about 20 per cent of the fifty indicators that you will find in the structure of this report there have been improvements. Many of those have been in what I call the economic area relating to indicators around income, employment, housing, and in that respect I think Indigenous people have shared in the growing prosperity of the Australian community generally, in the period covered by the report. Clearly it’s going to be challenging going forward in more difficult economic circumstances to maintain and build on that progress. A very important area of progress where the gap has been closing is infant mortality which is one of the key COAG targets where we have seen mortality rates, the infant mortality rates decline significantly relative to the average for the wider community. So that’s a very important area of improvement that’s reflected in this report. But in a number of the social indicators, what we could call social indicators, things have got worse. So for example, substantiated child abuse and neglect is running at about six times the rate for non-Indigenous communities compared to four times at the beginning of the decade. In many areas we’re still observing no change. So the gap is quite large and we’ve seen no improvement and in about half of the indicators we’re still not in a position to say whether there’s been an improvement or not, reflecting the quality or lack of quality in the data. So we have a series of snapshots but it’s very hard to discern trends because of a range of issues to do with data which I’m happy to come back and talk to you about. Perhaps the most important area in that respect is the life expectancy data which is probably the most important and symbolic of all the indicators in the report. There’s good and bad news about the life expectancy data in this report. The good news is that the life expectancy gap is much smaller than we thought it was at the time of previous reports. It is running in the most recent period that estimates were available for at 10 years for women and 12 years for men. That compares to an average gap of 17 years or 20 years indeed when we did the first report back in 2003. The bad news is that, so that’s good news for obvious reasons. I mean it looks far more tractable as a problem than it did when it was 20 years. And indeed if we make comparisons between Australia and overseas countries which always looked very bad in the past, that we don’t look so bad. In fact we’ve come back to the pack in terms of the gap that it attains in Indigenous communities in other countries. The bad news is that there’s no news in relation to the trend. That difference that we observed, those lower numbers reflect better data in relation to Indigenous deaths in particular, and also more refined methodologies. We still don’t know whether things have been getting better over the period of the four reports, and indeed data from the Northern Territory suggests that there may have been very little improvement in that period.

The point I should make however, is that much of the data in the report is still more than we would want it to be. A lot of it really goes to 2006 or 2007. Only some for 2008. But data is improving all the time and indeed, COAG support for this exercise in itself has been a important driver for improving data and getting better data. It can’t happen overnight but if you compare this report, the fourth one, to the first one you’ll see major improvements in data quality in that period and the ability to start looking at trends. So the notion of treading a base line and measuring progress going forward, I think, is well established already in this report. And each one’s getting better in that respect.

The other point I’d make is that there are some very positive stories in this report about policy initiatives and community initiatives that are actually working. In fact we call them things that work, and so when you look through the report you’ll see boxes which are mini case studies of initiatives that seem to be working in areas of early child development, education and health. So that’s a very important contribution that the report can make. Many of those things that work are quite unconventional by mainstream policy standards. They’re things that communities themselves have dreamed up as ways of dealing with problems. And the no school no pool is just one example, I think, of the kinds of initiatives that have been quite effective but quite unconventional in mainstream terms. So I think we need to learn from those and we need to spread success where we observe it. And COAG is creating a clearing house for good ideas about Indigenous policy and things that work which I think is a very promising development.

There are four key success factors that we outline in this report when you look at all of the things that work. One of them is, the things that work, generally work because of cooperative approaches between government and communities. That won’t surprise you. Secondly, there’s been a very strong element of bottoms up from communities, not just tops down from government. The third thing is that generally has been characterised nevertheless by strong government support and support that’s been enduring, not just a short term support. And finally, by good governance arrangements on both the Indigenous side but also in relation to government and across governments, it’s a very important part of success.

So the report I guess remains a major challenge in terms of the gaps that are still evident in it. The report in itself I think is a small but essential part of the solution going forward and understanding whether we are getting better and that will take time. Finally I’d like to thank all those involved. This is a collaborative exercise. The Productivity Commission is a Secretariat to a Steering Committee of officials from all governments who’ve worked very hard on this and I’d like to thank them. I’d like to thank the Secretariat of the Commission itself, which has obviously worked very hard, and my colleague, Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald, who’s taken the lead in oversighting the work program for this report, and finally thank COAG and Minister Macklin in particular for their support. I mean this exercise you won’t see undertaken in any other country to the degree of transparency and accountability reflected in it and I think it reflects well on COAG and all Australian Governments that they’re prepared not only to make ambitious targets and objectives but to measure their success in this periodic report. Thank you.

JENNY MACKLIN: Thanks very much Gary. If I could just add a few remarks, one is that this report really does demonstrate the depth and extent of the challenge in front of us. It really does indicate what we have always said which is that closing the gap is going to be very tough and will require from all of us a long term commitment. A long term commitment if we’re going to make a difference. The report does indicate that there have been some positive improvements but it also indicates that there are many areas, many areas where we have very very significant challenges, very significant challenges. And if I can just say that that hardens our resolve to do everything possible to close the gap. We also know that closing the gap requires us to work in more than one policy area, that there is no simple solution, there’s no one policy that’s going to enable us to address these very very significant differences in outcomes for Indigenous Australians. So what we’re about is recognising a number of things. One is that overall government investment is critical. We understand that over a long period of time there has not been sufficient government investment in housing, in education, in health services, in supporting people to get work. And we understand that, and all of the governments of Australia have come together to make a historic commitment last November to an increase in government investment in each of these areas. An increase of $4.6 billion in these critical areas of investment. But we also know that we have to change the old ways we did things. And Gary Banks has indicated today some of the critical areas where we do need to make changes. Make sure that we are working in partnership and with respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We understand how critical it is to work with individual communities, individual towns, individual suburbs, areas where we have concentrations of Indigenous people, so that we don’t deliver a one size fits all approach. But we also know that there are areas where we need major structural reform and we’ve embarked on some very, very significant reforms so I’ll just outline a couple of those. One is in the area of housing, and this is particularly in housing in remote parts of Australia. We are embarking on a major program of land reform and tenancy reform to improve the quality of housing, the quality of people’s lives in their homes. This is going to take some time but we’re determined to both put the financial resources in to build more homes, to repair more homes, but to also change the way we’ve done things from the past. The second critical area I want to highlight today is in relation to employment. We are introducing major reforms to the Indigenous Employment Programs, to the Community Development Employment Program. And that’s all about recognising that people are much better off if they’re able to work, if they’re ready for work, if they’re able to take the opportunities to get the jobs where they are available. These are very significant reforms and they are going to take time to implement and time to have an impact. But what we know is that the old ways of doing things must change. Just last week we got legislation through the Parliament to introduce a new way of delivering services in remote Australia. There’ll be a new Remote Services Indigenous Coordinator-General. He’ll be taking up his position by the end of July. It’s all about recognising that the hap-hazard way that we did things in the past, no cooperation between governments, between levels of government, making sure that we deliver the services on the ground in a much more coordinated way with the input of local people. This whole approach is just about to kick off. So these are big reforms, big changes. They will take time to implement. There’s a significant financial commitment behind these changes, a 10 year commitment in the case of housing in remote communities. We are determined to do everything we can to begin to close these gaps and as this report demonstra
tes it will be a very tough task but one we’re determined to put everything we can into. Thank you.

JOURNALIST: Would it be an increase in abuse figures to (inaudible) the gap from four in 2002 to six times? What do you put that down to?

GARY BANKS: Well, those social indicators are incredibly hard to deal with from a government perspective. It’s perhaps the most challenging area of public policy because they reflect things that are happening within the home and within the communities. So I think that’s a reflection of what Indigenous leaders themselves have talked about in terms of the dysfunctional and unhappiness within these communities. The causes of that, well they’re rooted in history. You know, in dispossession, in a range of things including issues to do with past policies as well. So there’s a whole, there’s no easy solutions and I think it underlines, that very indicator just underlines how difficult the task is for government and it has to be a collaborative process with communities themselves.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) increase in reporting because of intervention (inaudible) that’s what I’m trying to…

JENNY MACKLIN: Yes, sure. I might just add to Gary Banks’ remarks. We’ve seen a very significant increase in child abuse and neglect substantiations across Australia both for Indigenous and non-Indigenous children and this is of course alarming for all children. It is the case that we’ve seen an increase in the numbers of Indigenous children who are subject to substantiated cases of abuse and neglect. And that gap is widening as this report shows. We expect in both the Indigenous and the non-Indigenous communities that this is in part, in part, due to improved reporting. And that is a good thing. It is a good thing that it’s coming out from behind the shadows; and we’re able to make sure that where children need the protection of State community services, organisations and laws that they’re able to get those protections. But of course the numbers of children is extremely serious. The number of children who are being abused, the number of children who are being neglected is extremely serious. For the first time the Federal Government has introduced a National Child Protection Framework and that was just agreed by the Council of Australian Governments at its last meeting. We have a whole range of commitments by the States and Territories and by the Commonwealth. We’re now sharing information in a way that we’ve never done before. We have a commitment to develop out of home care standards so that when children are removed we can try and measure once again that the standards across the country are of an equally high status. So this is an extremely serious area. Even with the data problems that the Productivity Commission has indicated, the data that we have does say to all of us that we have a very big job in front of us to improve the protection of children.

JOURNALIST: Mr Banks, this may be a stupid question but only receiving this moments before you walked in I haven’t had a chance to read it. You say that it’s hard to get data, some of the data is not fine. If you’ve done four reports though, just in the terms of preparing reports in statistical terms, how is that you, you must have been collecting the same data sets. I don’t understand how there would be problems in comparing with one before?

GARY BANKS: Well, when we did the first report there were lots of data gaps, I mean the data just wasn’t collected. I mean what the Minister’s alluding to there, in terms of one of the challenges here, is that we’re observing that Indigenous people are more likely to come forward and indicate that there’s an issue or a problem. They’re more likely to indicate that they are Indigenous in a survey asking whether you are or not. But that’s the devil’s estimates of trends because the base is changing from one report to the next and the issue of life expectancy, for example, recorded deaths. That data is improving all the time and becoming more accurate so that’s the problem we face. It’s part of a positive thing and that is that data is being refined and getting better all the time. So the snapshots are getting more and more accurate. But what we want to understand where the gaps are closing is trend data. So that’s the challenge we have.

JOURNALIST: The Northern Territory has spent a fair amount of setting up schools in remote communities. And the reading and writing and (inaudible) indicators in this reports basically it’s saying there’s been no change at all over the past decade and the levels (inaudible). I mean is that, how does that happen, I suppose, like what’s (inaudible) of reporting back?

GARY BANKS: That’s aggregated data (inaudible). That’s aggregated data and the most recent year is still a bit dated for it. So the combination of those two things can either wash out some of the positive things that are happening in particular areas, or miss the more recent developments.

JENNY MACKLIN: One of the critical things that the Council of Australian Governments agreed to at the end of last year was a specific commitment to literacy and numeracy improvements, teacher quality, increased investments in low socio economic areas that have concentrations of Indigenous people, and other disadvantaged Australians. We do expect to see improvements in the attendance of children, the enrolment of children at school. These basic requirements are essential if we’re going to see the literacy and numeracy gaps improve, the achievement of Year 12 completion improve. We’re not going to see those things improve if we don’t get children enrolled at school if they’re not going to school on a regular basis. This data is demonstrating to us that in remote parts of Australia, including here in the Northern Territory, we do still have very very significant gaps when it comes to literacy and numeracy, attendance at school. Each of these measures demonstrate just how important it is that we continue to work very hard in the education area. We also know that of course these things are interlinked. If children do better at school, they’re more likely to get a job, they’re more likely to have better health, they’re more likely to have a better home. So it’s critical that we work on each of these issues together not see them always as separate.

JOURNALIST: Just in regards to the actual life expectancy, you mentioned that there was improvements in methodology and that gap has tightened up a bit. But you’ve mentioned those is that indication that the NT have improved? Can you just clarify what’s meant by that (inaudible)?

GARY BANKS: Yes, when I said the national data is not available on the trend basis. I think the Northern Territory data is more consistent over time and that shows, that data for men and women, I’ve forgotten which way they go, but I think it’s improved slightly for one sex, and not for the other but it’s relatively small. So the window on the national statistics that we have from the Northern Territory where there is more consistent data suggests that there may not have been any improvement.

JOURNALIST: Just one more question in regard to child abuse, it has risen significantly? What kind of affect if any have the banning of alcohol and pornography in remote communities had on quarantining money?

JENNY MACKLIN: It’s not possible from the data to draw that direct link but what we do know is that the consumption, over-consumption of alcohol does have an impact, is one of the very serious risk factors for child abuse and neglect if a family’s money is being spent on alcohol, rather than being spent on looking after the children, then you’re going to see more evidence of neglect. So we are starting to see in those areas where in the Northern Territory, for example, with income management where now half of a family’s welfare money is spent on the essentials of life. We’re seeing more money being spent on food, more money being spent on fresh fruit and vegetables, more money being spent on clothing for children. In Western Australia, where there’s also been the introduction of alcohol controls. In Fitzroy Crossing, for example, we’ve seen a reduction in hospitalisation, in violence resulting from alcohol. So in some snapshot areas we are seeing some improvement but it is, we still have a very very big job ahead of us.

JOURNALIST: And what about the pornography ban?

JENNY MACKLIN: That’s much harder to measure. Much, much more difficult to measure but we do have some preliminary data, and I emphasise that it’s early data. From the stores’ reports that we have here in the Northern Territory and the evidence we have in Fitzroy Crossing, in Western Australia, there is evidence that the alcohol controls and income management have been very positive for issues like more money being spent on food, fewer cases of violence, violence that’s particularly from Fitzroy Crossing, so there’s some early indications of positive impact.

JOURNALIST: Minister what’s happened with CDEP and transition to jobs (inaudible)?

JENNY MACKLIN: As I mentioned earlier we are making major changes to the Indigenous employment programs, both to the Community Development Employment Program and to the Indigenous Employment Program. As a result of those changes we are investing an additional $200 million in work readiness, job readiness programs, trying to make sure that we do everything possible to get people ready for work. It’s the case that as of yesterday in non-remote parts of Australia, so those parts of Australia where we have established economies, the Community Development Employment Program will not continue. We think it’s much better to encourage people to take the job opportunities that do exist in these established communities but we’re not leaving people without services, in fact there’ll be a significant boost to services through the new Jobs Services Australia and the Indigenous Employment Program. In remote parts of Australia, CDEP, the Community Development Employment Program will continue but in a much reformed way, with a much stronger focus on job readiness and training.

JOURNALIST: Are you confident there are enough jobs to take up the slack from people going off CDEP?

JENNY MACKLIN: We understand that these are very difficult economic times. One of the reasons that we have said here in remote parts of Australia, that for the next two years people can who are currently on CDEP wages that they’ll be able to stay on CDEP wages, and that’s really recognising the economic environment that we’re in. But for those in established economies we – this is something I feel very strongly about – people are so much better off if they’re able to get a job, where they get properly paid, where they get the chance to get promotions, move ahead in a job. We want to do everything possible to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders get those jobs, and get a chance for a better standard of living. Thank you.