22 December 2015 | General Interest
On 2 December the Productivity Commission released the latest appraisal of the impact of the National Indigenous Reform Agreement (NIRA), which sets out the targets and measures for Closing the Gap in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander disadvantage. This report is the sixth in a series of assessments against Closing the Gap targets, which were previously conducted by the COAG Reform Council.
This year’s report has highlighted the fact that several Closing the Gap targets are not being met, including those for reading and numeracy. The report notes that employment gaps between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and the non-Indigenous population have widened since the NIRA was established.
However, there have been positive results against targets for reducing child mortality and increasing Year 12 attainment rates, and significant improvements in access to early childhood education in remote and very remote communities.
SNAICC has raised concerns that new national COAG targets for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander access to early childhood, announced shortly after this report, may be substantially undermined by funding changes to community controlled early childhood education and care services.
The Productivity Commission’s report finds that “while tracking progress towards an outcomes end point can inform policy making, it is not a substitute for examining the role of specific policies in reducing disadvantage”. It also notes that there is substantial current duplication in reporting against Closing the Gap targets, and a strong case for reporting to be rationalised and simplified.
The Productivity Commission proposes several options for more vigorous policy evaluation, including:
- an overarching review of policy evaluation in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-focused programs and interventions, to identify sound evaluation practice and translate this into improved policy settings and decision making.
- COAG evaluation of policy settings in a target area, to determine their efficacy and serve as an example of good evaluation practice, and
- adding an evaluation-focused target to the Closing the Gap initiative.
The report also notes that Australian Institute of Welfare research found, in the context of early childhood parenting, education and health interventions, that “(without) more funding for rigorous research and evaluation designs, much of the evidence base will continue to be of generally low quality.”
SNAICC supports the call for increased evaluation of the efficiency and efficacy of government policy initiatives; at our national conference in September, delegates called for more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander led research to expand the evidence base for supporting child wellbeing and cultural continuity.
SNAICC also advocates for increased government accountability to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families through more transparent reporting frameworks and independent, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander led evaluation of progress against policy outcomes in early childhood education and care and child protection for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.