Confronting truths of inequality as PM reports on Closing the Gap

by Freya Lucas

February 14

In delivering the 2019 Closing the Gap report, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has revealed that only two of a possible seven targets, aimed at reducing disadvantage for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples had been achieved, and that, as a nation “we can never rest until we change this for all time.”


In presenting the 2019 Closing the Gap report in the House of Representatives yesterday, Mr Morrison stated: “I want Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to have the same opportunities as all other children growing up in Australia. But this is not true for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in Australia today. It’s never been true. And I don’t know when it will be true. And that is the truth we must confront again today.”


Mr Morrison cited as a success the target to have 95 per cent of Indigenous children engaged in early childhood education by 2025 as being on track, noting that in 2017, 95 per cent of Indigenous children were enrolled in early childhood education.


However, latest information from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that, of the 17,444 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged four or five enrolled in a Universal Access preschool program or equivalent, only 12,764 (73 per cent) were attending for 600 hours or more.


600 hours of attendance ensures that each child eligible for the Universal Access program is receiving 15 hours per week of education and care in the year before school, with research demonstrating this is an optimal amount of time for learning and development.


In sharing this information, Mr Morrison highlighted that, whilst New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and the ACT now have enrolments at the 95 per cent benchmark rate or above, attendance rates for Indigenous children were lower in remote areas – particularly very remote areas – by up to 16 percentage points lower than the rates for Indigenous children in metropolitan areas, indicating there was still work to do.


As expressed by Oxfam in their announcement in relation to the report , the infant mortality rate target, of halving infant mortality in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, is not on track, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children experiencing mortality at twice the rate of non-Indigenous infants.


Additionally, the cessation of the Budget Based Funding (BBF) model has caused serious concerns about the viability of Indigenous Early Education services, with SNAICC – National Voice for our Children expressing their concern that the new funding model  “will not work for BBF services as it is not a feasible or appropriate model through which to provide culturally-strong ECEC programs for families and communities experiencing entrenched disadvantage.”

Mr Morrison’s speech to the House of Representatives can be read in full here.