Tag: <span>closing the gap</span>

Australia is missing the Closing the Gap employment target by decades

Zoe Staines, Queensland University of Technology

Australia is missing its target to halve the unemployment gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia by several decades, according to the latest Closing the Gap report.

The report also highlights many other problems with current Closing the Gap targets. For instance, the unemployment target misses other aspects of economic life, such as income. The targets need to be rethought so that they address economic well-being and more closely guide strategy and policies on the ground.

Read more:
Closing the Gap results still lag, as Shorten pledges compensation fund for Stolen Generations

The unemployment rate for Indigenous Australians is going down. But 2016 Census data show that it will take until 2031 to halve the gap, and until about 2051 to close the gap entirely. Even New South Wales, which leads Australia on this measure, won’t meet the target until about 2026.

One reason why some states are doing better in tackling the unemployment gap is that different opportunities are available for urban and rural Australians. In 2014/15, only 5% of the NSW Indigenous population lived in remote areas. This compares to 21% nationally, 79% in the Northern Territory and 19% in Queensland.


Under the Indigenous Procurement Policy, 3% of all federal procurement contracts go to Indigenous businesses. This is a big part of the federal government’s plan to achieve the employment target.

However, while there may be some success stories, a recent report also warned that “the policy’s target measurement system greatly exaggerates its success”.

For instance, in 2015-16 Indigenous suppliers won 2.9% of government contracts but these contracts accounted for only 0.94% of total procurement spending.

Read more:
Radical rethink of Closing the Gap required, despite some progress

The latest Closing the Gap report highlights the continued importance of Indigenous leadership in this space and the need for government to actually listen and truly partner, rather than just talk about it.

Only through empowerment and ownership by Indigenous Australians will we see serious improvements against a revised Closing the Gap framework, or any other standard for that matter. Mere rhetoric is not, and never will be, enough.

Tremendous gains yet to be made

While Closing the Gap focuses on hitting a target employment rate, there are other aspects to economic well-being that are not considered.

The framework fails to address the widening gap in weekly personal income between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia, for example. This shows that even if employment rates are improving, Indigenous Australians are still earning comparatively less.

Economic well-being also collides with other facets of well-being in a number of ways. For instance, an adequate income means earning enough money to access quality health care and education. But it’s also important to derive satisfaction and meaning from employment.

Read more:
Three reasons why the gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians aren’t closing

There is also no clear strategy for how the targets filter down into ground-level approaches that are evidence-based and actually work. The federal government’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy tried to link activities to outcomes that aligned with the Closing the Gap targets, but was found to have performed poorly across a number of areas.

Without a stronger evidence base and a clearer strategy for how the targets are meant to inform on-the-ground policies and programs, we simply don’t know which approaches to amplify and which to abandon.

Read more:
Closing the gap on Indigenous education must start with commitment and respect

The current process to refresh the Closing the Gap targets and framework is under way and might consider some of these issues. However, it already faces problems with poor consultation and partnership.

This is ironic, given the repeated sentiments of the last ten years of Closing the Gap reports that relationships are being strengthened.

The ConversationAlthough the latest report has shown that some areas are improving, there are many more metrics that show little or no change.

Zoe Staines, Research Consultant; Research Assistant, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Three reasons why the gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians aren’t closing

Francis Markham, Australian National University and Nicholas Biddle, Australian National University

This year’s Closing the Gap report tells a more positive story than the 2017 report on the seven measurable gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in the areas of health, education and employment.

According to the government’s figures, the targets relating to Year 12 attainment, early childhood education, and child mortality are on track to be closed. In last year’s report, Year 12 attainment was on track, but child mortality wasn’t. Early childhood education is a revised target, and 2018 is the first time trends can be monitored. The previous early childhood target was not met.

But the targets related to life expectancy, employment, literacy and numeracy, and school attendance are not on track to being met.


There has been steady improvement in absolute terms on most of the measures over the last decade, even if gaps have not closed at the desired pace.

Despite the symbolic importance these targets have gained and their precise numerical definition, progress toward meeting them remains remarkably hard to measure. This can lead to confusion and a sense that data is being constructed or interpreted to fit prior assumptions.

Low numbers of child deaths in a given year mean child mortality figures fluctuate across years in a way that doesn’t reflect real change. So, the child mortality target was on track, then it wasn’t, and now it is again. Policy parameters, however, haven’t changed much over the period.

For early childhood education, the number of Indigenous children attending preschool and the total number of eligible children come from different data sources. As those sources are revised (for example with new population estimates), it can look like rates are higher or lower than they actually are.

Care needs to be taken in interpreting progress, and ascribing this to actual policy change.

Read more:
Closing the Gap results still lag, as Shorten pledges compensation fund for Stolen Generations

Three reasons why gaps aren’t closing

Given its inability to meet such precisely defined targets, the Closing the Gap policy has been widely described as a failure. There are at least three important reasons why this is so.

First, laudable policy ambition was not matched with a radical change in how business is done in Indigenous affairs.

It has been clear since 2008 there would be little prospect of closing gaps in health and employment within a generation if business-as-usual policymaking continued. That same analysis showed closing the gap in educational attainment was more realistic if trends predating Closing the Gap continued. The latest report has vindicated this forecast.

However, without significant changes to how Indigenous policy was made, funded, and implemented, it seems the Closing the Gap policy was always destined to fail.

Second, governments’ stated policy goals have not always matched their policy actions.

An example of the mismatch between words and deeds can be found in employment policy. The abolition of a key job creation program – the Community Development Employment Projects scheme – has led to declining employment rates in remote parts of Australia. This reform has stalled progress toward closing employment gaps, not assisted it.

Read more:
Radical rethink of Closing the Gap required, despite some progress

Closing the Gap has also been hampered by competing policy priorities, such as the attempts to eliminate the federal budget deficit. It is likely the repeated cuts to the Indigenous affairs budget – especially in 2014 but also more recently with the apparent shortfall in the remote housing funding – has hobbled potential progress.

Similarly, evidence suggests one of the most significant Indigenous policy initiatives in recent years – the Northern Territory Intervention – may have directly widened health and school attendance gaps.

These negative outcomes are worse still when the opportunity costs of the immense amount of money and policy attention devoted to the Intervention are considered. As well as disempowering Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory, the Intervention cost time and money that could have been better spent elsewhere.

Read more:
Ten years on, it’s time we learned the lessons from the failed Northern Territory Intervention

Third, measures intended to achieve the targets have rarely been subject to careful evaluation and revision. Evaluations when they do occur rarely capture causal impact. And they often don’t capture the voices of those who were affected by the policy.

While there has been much talk from successive governments about the importance of evidence-based policy in Indigenous affairs, the promised focus on high-quality policy evaluation has yet to materialise.

Most importantly, the Closing the Gap framework has never tackled head-on the most important gap of all: the gulf between the political autonomy and economic resources of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

Arguably, the framing of Closing the Gap as a technical problem – reported on with a barrage of statistics, targets, measurement discussions and the like – serves to hide the extent to which Indigenous disadvantage is a political problem requiring structural reforms.

The apparent sidelining of reforms that Indigenous people have long argued would help to close gaps should lead us to question whether depoliticisation is the Closing the Gap policy’s real “target”.

Read more:
Listening but not hearing: process has trumped substance in Indigenous affairs

The ConversationThere has been little in the Closing the Gap agenda that has empowered Indigenous people to implement local solutions to the issues that they identify as being problems. If the promised “refresh” of Closing the Gap does not put resources – and the power to direct them – into Indigenous hands, the prospects for closing socioeconomic gaps are likely to remain distant.

Francis Markham, Research Fellow, College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University and Nicholas Biddle, Associate Professor, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

We’re not closing the gap on Indigenous employment, it’s widening

Zoe Staines, Queensland University of Technology

As 2018 approaches, the government has failed to meet its deadline for halving the gap in employment between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. This gap is still wide, and is growing, particularly in remote areas.

The Council of Australian Governments agreed to this goal in 2008 as part of the Closing the Gap framework on Indigenous disadvantage.

Read more: Radical rethink of Closing the Gap required, despite some progress

Recent Census data shows the extent of Indigenous unemployment across Australia and in Queensland’s remote communities. The unemployment gap appears to have reduced from 20.2% to 11.6% across Australia and from 53.6% to 30.7% in Queensland’s remote communities.

However in 2016 across Queensland’s remote communities, Indigenous Australians were still nearly 13 times more likely to be unemployed (at a rate of 33.3%) than non-Indigenous Australians (2.6%). The gap in labour-force participation, while remaining somewhat steady across Australia, is growing in Queensland’s remote communities (from 29.0% in 2006 to 35.4% in 2016).

The gap in median weekly personal income is also widening between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians both nationally and across Queensland’s remote communities.

When we look at median personal income, even where Indigenous Australians are more likely to be working, non-Indigenous Australians are still being paid more. Different skill sets, the continued gap in educational attainment, job choice, workplace discrimination and underemployment may play a role here.

Since employment is meant to be, at least partially, a means of ending cycles of disadvantage, we ought to ask ourselves about what this means for our government’s choice of target. Is simple “employment” the only helpful measure?

How to address the gap

Recently, the federal government announced it would work with Indigenous Australians to review and refresh the Closing the Gap framework.

In remote areas, there are a complex variety of issues that lead to bigger employment gaps. One example is a legacy of poorer school attendance and outcomes.

For example, a recent report by the Australian Council for Educational Research and the most recent Closing the Gap report confirm that attendance can be up to 20% less in remote areas. So tackling school attendance and outcomes will likely lead to improved employment over time.

There are typically also poorer outcomes for Indigenous Australians across other key social indicators (for example health and safety) that affect their ability to work. A successful approach will ensure these issues can also be addressed.

Remote economies also tend to be weaker, so there are often fewer jobs available (though non-Indigenous unemployment is still very low in these locations).

The impacts of past remote-employment programs should also be carefully considered. Over 30 or so years, the Community Development Employment Programme (introduced in 1977) created artificial economies that stifled genuine economic development by providing free or heavily-subsidised work for the dole labour.

Subsequent programs, such as the Remote Jobs and Communities Programme and particularly the current Community Development Programme do the same to varying extents. The government hasn’t yet struck the right balance between up-skilling remote job seekers, stimulating remote economies, and transitioning job seekers into real employment.

It’s now in the process of creating yet another remote employment program to replace the Community Development Programme (the sixth program in ten years). Whether or not they are able to better strike this balance in future programs is yet to be seen.

Read more: Census data shows just how bad we’ve been at closing inequality gaps

Finally, it has been said time and time again, but the message still does not seem to be getting through – to close the gap, Indigenous Australians need to lead the process, as the experts. They understand Indigenous history, context and circumstances in ways that non-Indigenous public servants and politicians, sitting at their faraway desks, simply can’t.

This includes Indigenous organisations, which are more likely to employ Indigenous people and achieve outcomes than non-Indigenous service providers because they have real “skin in the game”.

However, in Queensland, only about 13% of the Community Development Programme providers listed by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet are Indigenous. There is clearly some way to go here.

The ConversationThe government’s commitment to working with Indigenous Australians to refresh the Closing the Gap framework is positive. However, only time will tell whether we end up with the same old agenda or a more useful approach that enables meaningful progress to be made.

Zoe Staines, Research Consultant; Research Assistant, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.