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Slow progress towards Closing the Gap

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Malcolm Turnbull insisted jobs and setting up businesses are crucial to improving the lives of indigenous Australians as he prepared today to hand down the annual Closing the Gap report.

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The latest report card on the Federal Government’s strategy shows just three of its seven targets are on track, a decade after it was launched to improve the lives of indigenous Australians.

The prime minister said today he was increasingly convinced closing the gap was an impossible goal without equal participation in the economy.

“One of the most effective ways to tackle disadvantage is ensuring that everyone is included in the economy and shares in its benefits,” Turnbull told an indigenous economic development event at Parliament House.

“I’m determined to build a stronger economy so that everyone who can find work, who can work, is able to find employment.”

Turnbull, who later tabled his third Closing the Gap report, trumpeted growth in the indigenous business sector.

The number of indigenous-owned businesses has grown 30 per cent since 2011, compared to a one per cent increase in non-indigenous businesses.

Indigenous businesses have now won more than $1 billion in government contracts, compared to just $6 million in 2012-13.

The latest Closing the Gap report will show the target found to be on track in 2017 – to halve the gap in Year 12 attainment by 2020 – remains on track.

Two more targets – halving the gap in child mortality by 2018 and having 95 per cent of all indigenous four-year-olds enrolled in early childhood education by 2025 – are both now on track.

However, the remaining four targets, including a key goal to close the 10-year gap in life expectancy between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians by 2031, are lagging.

As well, three of the remaining four targets – to halve the gaps in employment, reading and numeracy, and in school attendance for indigenous students – are due to expire in 2018.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion says while some targets are not on track to be met, there has been solid progress in other areas compared with a decade ago.

Indigenous Labor senator Pat Dodson welcomed news three of the seven targets are on track.

“If there is progress, as microscopic as it might be, that’s refreshing,” he told ABC radio.

However, Dodson stressed the need to include more indigenous people in service delivery and improving housing supports.

He also welcomed suggestions the Turnbull government may be open to the idea of including targets on incarceration rates and child protection.

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd, who introduced the Closing the Gap strategy after his apology to the stolen generations in 2008, said the original targets were always going to be hard to meet because “overcoming 200 years of disadvantage is a bloody hard thing”.

“So I say today, let’s not bash the targets, let’s enhance the targets – but we should not water them down,” Rudd said.

One Nation leader Pauline Hanson on Monday revived her attacks on taxpayer money being spent on indigenous Australians, drawing sharp criticism from Labor.

– AAP

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