26 November 2014 | General Interest
The 2014 Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage (OID) report has delivered familiar and frustrating mixed results in the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, with improvements in health, education and economic outcomes offset by worrying results in areas such as justice and mental health.
The sixth OID report shows that, nationally, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians:
- economic outcomes have improved over the longer term, with higher incomes, lower reliance on income support, increased home ownership, and higher rates of full time and professional employment. However, improvements have slowed in recent years
- several health outcomes have improved, including increased life expectancy and lower child mortality. However, rates of disability and chronic disease remain high, mental health outcomes have not improved, and hospitalisation rates for self-harm have increased
- post-secondary education outcomes have improved, but there has been virtually no change in literacy and numeracy results at school, which are particularly poor in remote areas
- justice outcomes continue to decline, with adult imprisonment rates worsening and no change in high rates of juvenile detention and family and community violence.
The OID report is the most comprehensive report on Indigenous wellbeing produced in Australia and is a product of the Review of Government Service Provision. It is overseen by a Steering Committee comprising senior officials from the Australian, state and territory governments, and supported by a secretariat from the Productivity Commission.
In the wake of the latest OID report, SNAICC has called on the Australian Government to lead the way to see sustained improvements in crucial areas such as child protection, justice and early childhood education.
“As SNAICC has asserted before, greater investment by governments in early childhood education is the platform for sustained improvements in other Closing the Gap targets, including school attendance, reading, writing and numeracy, employment, health and life expectancy,” SNAICC Chairperson Sharron Williams said.
“Governments must support and increase the number of Indigenous community-controlled early years services to give every Indigenous child every chance of success at school and beyond.”
SNAICC has also called on the Australian Government to create a Closing the Gap target on child protection to reduce the alarming and disproportionate contact of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families with the child protection system.
The OID report reveals that the rate of Indigenous children on care and protection orders has increased by over 440 per cent from 2004 to 2013, while the non-Indigenous rate has remained constant.
And today, there are over 14,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care in Australia — or a staggering 34 per cent of all children in care, despite representing only 4.4 per cent of the child population.
Grandmothers Against Removals (NSW) has condemned what it calls a continuing Stolen Generation of Aboriginal children, citing shocking statistics in the 2014 OID report, including a massive 436 per cent increase in “care and protection” orders on Indigenous children between 2004 and 2013.
“While the Productivity Commission summary and news headlines focussed on appalling statistics such as a 48 per cent increase in hospitalisation for self-harm and a 57 per cent increase in incarceration, the shocking indicators on so called “Child Protection” were buried in the report,” they wrote in a media release.
“Figures on Indigenous children in out of home care did not even make it into the body of the report, which is more than 600 pages long, only featuring in the appendix. These figures show the number of Aboriginal children in “out of home care” has increased from 5,059 on June 30 2004, to 13,914 on June 30 2013.”
The release quotes Debra Swan, an Aboriginal grandmother who worked as a Child Protection officer in North West NSW for more than a decade. Recently, she quit her job due to deep concerns with the large-scale removals taking place:
“I have seen the human face of these horrifying statistics, the children and families going through a continuation of the Stolen Generation. This is why we created Grandmothers Against Removals. We demand full Aboriginal control over the welfare of our children.”
In the wake of the OID report, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS) has called for a new and more effective approach that addresses the underlying causes of crime as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander incarceration rates continue to rise.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up only 2.3 per cent of the adult population, but make up over 27 percent of the adult prison population,” NATSILS Chairperson Shane Duffy said.
“The Report shows that our women and young people are being particularly impacted by this trend with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people being around 24 times more likely to be in detention and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women having the fastest growth in imprisonment with a 73 per cent increase since 2000.”
Mr Duffy said that he welcomed the Report’s recognition that indicators of socio-economic disadvantage and changes to laws and judicial processes underpin the continued rise in the over-incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
“Higher rates of disadvantage, over-policing, more restrictive approaches to bail, mandatory sentencing, and a lack of non-custodial sentencing options in regional and remote areas are having a disproportionate impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and bringing them into contact with the criminal justice system at a greater rate,” he said.