Indigenous reform 2012-13: five years of performance

22 May 2014

This report focuses on whether COAG’s six Closing the Gap targets have improved over five years. We found gains in primary education, Year 12 attainment and post school qualifications—but employment is not improving. In the health findings, we found that faster progress is needed to close the life expectancy gap by 2031. A clear positive is that COAG is on target to halve the gap in child deaths by 2018.

Since 2008, there has been good progress on three of the six Indigenous reform targets. There has been little progress on two targets and a decline on one target. 

COAG set six reform targets to address Indigenous disadvantage and close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. We report annually on progress toward these targets. 

This year we look back over five years to assess what progress governments have made. 

On reducing child deaths, improving literacy and numeracy, and Year 12 attainment, Indigenous outcomes are catching up with those of non-Indigenous Australians 
From 1998 to 2012, the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous child death rates (0–4 years) reduced from 139.0 to 87.6 deaths per 100 000. The Indigenous child death rate fell by an average of 6.4 deaths per 100 000 per year over this period, fast enough to reach COAG’s target by 2018. 

Between 2008 and 2013, the gap in the proportion of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students who meet the national minimum standard: 

  • narrowed in reading in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 and in Years 3 and 5 in numeracy 
  • in reading, the gap reduced by 10.5 percentage points in Year 3, 15.6 percentage points in Year 5, 1.3 percentage points in Year 7, and 2.9 percentage points in Year 9 
  • in numeracy, the gap narrowed by 2.4 percentage points in Year 3 and 3.2 percentage points in Year 5 but widened in the secondary school years (Years 7 and 9). 

Looking at Indigenous students’ achievement at or above the national minimum standard over five years, reading improved nationally in the primary school years but numeracy did not improve. In writing, there was no national improvement in Indigenous students’ results from 2011 to 2013. 

Between 2008 and 2012–13 the gap in the proportion of Indigenous and non-Indigenous 20–24 year olds who attained Year 12 or equivalent decreased significantly by 12.2 percentage points. In 2012–13, 59.1% of Indigenous Australians had attained Year 12 or equivalent, compared with 45.4% in 2008. There were significant improvements in NSW, the Northern Territory and the ACT. 

From 2008 to 2012, falls in Indigenous students’ school attendance were larger and more widespread than improvements. The gap grew in South Australia, the ACT and particularly in the Northern Territory. Attendance improved and the gap narrowed in NSW and Victoria.

In three areas—life expectancy, early education and employment—better results are needed to meet COAG targets 

In 2010–2012, Indigenous life expectancy at birth was 69.1 years for men and 73.7 years for women. This was a gap to non-Indigenous life expectancy of 10.6 years for men and 9.5 years for women. Over five years, the national gap to non-Indigenous life expectancy narrowed by 0.8 years for men and 0.1 years for women. Larger gains are needed in future years to meet the target to close the gap by 2031. 

Looking at health risk factors, between 2008 and 2011–13 there were falls in daily smoking rates for Indigenous Australians (3.6 percentage points) and non-Indigenous Australians (2.9 percentage points), however, the Indigenous smoking rate is still twice the non-Indigenous smoking rate. In 2011–13, the excess body weight rate is high for Indigenous people (71.4%) and non-Indigenous people (62.6%). Two in five Indigenous people were obese. 

In 2012, 88% of Indigenous children in remote communities were enrolled in a preschool program in the year before school and 77% attended. A seven percentage point increase is needed to reach COAG’s target of 95% enrolment in remote communities by 2013. Assessment of whether the 2013 target was reached will be presented in the next report. 
Australia is not on track to halve the gap in employment outcomes by 2018. Between 2008 and 2012–13, the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous outcomes widened significantly in employment (6.6 percentage points), unemployment (4.1 percentage points) and labour force participation (4.9 percentage points).1

The Indigenous employment rate did not improve in any jurisdiction, and the gap either did not improve or widened significantly in every jurisdiction. 

From 2008 to 2012–13, Indigenous employment rates fell in Western Australia (10.7 percentage points), Queensland (8.2 percentage points), and in the Northern Territory (6.8 percentage points). The gap in employment widened by 13.8 percentage points in Western Australia and 8.0 percentage points in Queensland. 

Over the past four years, the proportion of Indigenous Australians with or working towards a post school qualification increased from 33.1% to 42.3%. Indigenous post school qualification rates significantly improved in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and the ACT. Non-Indigenous qualification rates significantly improved in all States and Territories. The only significant change to the gap was in South Australia, where it narrowed by 10.0 percentage points over five years. 



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