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FEATURE ARTICLE: OVERCOMING INDIGENOUS DISADVANTAGE
Information in this article was contributed by the Australian Government Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, and the Productivity Commission (September 2007).
At 30 June 2006, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) preliminary Indigenous estimated resident population of Australia was 517,200 or 2.5% of the total population. This Indigenous population estimate was 14% higher than the 2006 unadjusted Census count (455,028). The relatively poor economic and social outcomes for many Indigenous Australians are well documented. Significant efforts are being made to address this disadvantage.
The Council of Australian Governments' (COAG) National Framework of Principles for Delivering Services to Indigenous Australians commits all levels of government to 'achieving better outcomes for Indigenous Australians, improving the delivery of services, building greater opportunities and helping Indigenous families and individuals to become self-sufficient.'
The strategic framework of indicators in COAG's Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators (OID) provides a useful framework in which to consider the welfare of Indigenous Australians. At the top of the framework, three priority outcomes reflect a vision for how life should be for Indigenous people. A set of 12 headline indicators are closely linked to the priority outcomes. Sitting beneath the priority outcomes and headline indicators are seven 'strategic areas for action'. Each strategic area for action is linked to a set of indicators, designed to show whether actions are making a difference, and to identify areas where more attention is needed.
This article reports some outcomes for Indigenous people, drawing on data from the 2007 OID Report.
According to the 2007 OID Report, Indigenous people experienced poorer outcomes than non-Indigenous people on virtually all the headline indicators, but there have been improvements in some areas. Life expectancy is an indicator of the long-term health and wellbeing of a population. In 2001, the life expectancy of Indigenous people was estimated to be around 17 years lower than that for the total Australian population. Rates of disability and chronic disease also reflect the wellbeing of Indigenous people. Indigenous adults living in non-remote areas in 2002 were twice as likely as non-Indigenous adults to report a disability resulting in a profound or severe core activity limitation.
Secondary and post-secondary education contribute to a range of outcomes, including self-development and employment. In 2006, Indigenous students were half as likely as non-Indigenous students to continue to Year 12. Between 1994 and 2004-05, the proportion of Indigenous people participating in post-secondary education increased from 5% to 11%, but non-Indigenous people remained more than twice as likely as Indigenous people to have completed a post-secondary qualification of Certificate Level III or above. From 1994 to 2004-05, labour force participation improved for Indigenous women (from 42% to 53%) and the Indigenous unemployment rate fell from 30% to 13%. However, the labour force participation rate for all Indigenous people was about three-quarters of that for non-Indigenous people, and the unemployment rate for Indigenous people was about three times the rate for non-Indigenous people.
The economic wellbeing of individuals is largely determined by their income and wealth. Between 2002 and 2004-05, after adjusting for inflation, the median equivalised gross household income for Indigenous adults rose by 10% (from $308 to $340 per week). The comparable income for non-Indigenous adults in 2004-05 was $618. The proportion of Indigenous adults living in homes owned or being purchased by a member of the household increased from 22% in 1994 to 25% in 2004-05, although the proportion of owner/purchaser households varied greatly by geographical remoteness.
Many Indigenous families and communities live under severe social strain, caused by a range of social and economic factors. In 2005-06, Indigenous children were nearly four times as likely as other Australian children to be the subject of a substantiation of abuse or neglect. In 2004-05, Indigenous people accounted for 15% of homicide victims and 16% of homicide offenders, and were hospitalised for assault at 17 times the rate of non-Indigenous people. Indigenous females were 44 times as likely as non-Indigenous females to have been hospitalised for assault. Indigenous people are highly over-represented in the criminal justice system, as both young people and adults. In 2006, after adjusting for age differences between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations, Indigenous people were 13 times as likely as non-Indigenous people to be imprisoned, and in 2005, Indigenous juveniles were 23 times as likely as non-Indigenous juveniles to have been detained.
EARLY CHILD DEVELOPMENT AND GROWTH
Early childhood experiences have a significant influence on health and educational outcomes in later life. There have been some improvements in Indigenous child health, perhaps reflecting an emphasis on early intervention. Successful initiatives include the Healthy for Life program, home health visits in remote areas and access to child care and playgroups.
Mortality rates for Indigenous babies improved between 1997-99 and 2003-05 in most jurisdictions for which data are available. However, Indigenous infant mortality rates in New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory combined were still two to three times those for all Australian infants for the period 2003-05.
In the period 2002-04, babies born to Indigenous mothers were more than twice as likely to have low birth weight (13 per 1,000 live births) than babies born to non-Indigenous mothers (6 per 1,000 live births).
In 2004-05, Indigenous children under four were twice as likely as non-Indigenous children to be hospitalised for potentially preventable diseases and injuries (251 per 1,000 compared to 123 per 1,000). The prevalence of hearing conditions was also higher among Indigenous children aged 0-14 years (10%) than non-Indigenous children (3%). Long-term ear infections and consequent hearing loss are a major inhibitor of early school performance.
EARLY SCHOOL ENGAGEMENT AND PERFORMANCE
Access to, and participation in, good quality early childhood education provide children with a head start at school. Gaps in children's basic skills for life and learning that appear at age five or six are often difficult to close, even with targeted school interventions. Between 2002 and 2005, the proportion of Indigenous children aged three to five years enrolled in preschool increased slightly from 24% to 25%. In 2006, the school enrolment rate for Indigenous children aged five to eight years (97%) was similar to that for non-Indigenous children (94%), although available evidence suggests that actual school attendance rates tend to be lower for Indigenous children. In 2005, a smaller proportion of Indigenous than non-Indigenous students achieved the national minimum literacy and numeracy benchmarks for Year 3.
POSITIVE CHILDHOOD AND TRANSITION TO ADULTHOOD
There are strong links between a positive childhood and transition to adulthood, and several of the OID headline indicators and other strategic areas for action. Good educational outcomes for young Indigenous people will enhance their opportunities as adults. As Indigenous students progress through school, the proportion achieving the minimum benchmarks (in Year 5 and Year 7) decreases. The Australian Government is providing additional funding to support increased school attendance and performance for Indigenous children.
Young people who do not come into contact with the juvenile justice system are less likely to become involved in the adult correctional system, and a cycle of re-offending. A smaller proportion of Indigenous juveniles than non-Indigenous juveniles were diverted from court by formal cautioning or referrals in each state and territory for which data were available.
Young people who are neither working nor studying are at risk of long-term disadvantage. Nationally, in 2004-05, 40% of Indigenous people aged 18-24 years were not employed (i.e. unemployed or not in the labour force) and not studying, compared with 11% of non-Indigenous people in the same age group. From 2002 to 2004-05, there was no statistically significant change in the proportions of Indigenous and non-Indigenous males and females aged 18-24 years who were neither employed nor studying.
SUBSTANCE USE AND MISUSE
Substance use and misuse can have far-reaching effects on a person's quality of life and health, and on those around them. Among Indigenous people living in non-remote areas, a higher proportion of Indigenous women reported long-term risky to high risk alcohol consumption in 2004-05 (14%) than in 1995 (6%) and 2001 (9%), but there was little change in rates of long-term risky to high risk alcohol consumption by Indigenous men over the same period. In 2004-05, 28% of Indigenous adults in non-remote areas reported illicit substance use in the preceding 12 months. The reported rate of smoking among Indigenous adults has remained constant between 1995 and 2004-05 at around 50%. After adjusting for age differences between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations, Indigenous adults were more than twice as likely as non-Indigenous adults to be daily smokers in 2004-05. Recent evidence suggests that the introduction of 'non-aromatic' fuels and the promotion of alternative activities for young people have had a major impact on rates of petrol sniffing in remote Indigenous communities.
FUNCTIONAL AND RESILIENT FAMILIES AND COMMUNITIES
The extent to which families and communities are functional and resilient influences a range of outcomes for Indigenous people. Functional and resilient families and communities may be characterised by a caring, protective and supportive environment, positive health outcomes, and cultural strength. Conversely, dysfunctional families and communities can lead to a breakdown in relationships and contribute to physical and mental health problems. A poor environment can affect a person's educational attainment, employment and income, and lead to increased exposure to violence and higher imprisonment rates.
Overcrowded housing and alcohol and substance misuse contribute to violence in Indigenous communities and the presence of family violence is a strong predictor of child abuse. There are no reliable data on actual levels of child abuse and neglect, but data showing the number of children on Care and Protection Orders are available. Care and Protection Orders are a legal intervention for the protection of children. Some children are on Care and Protection Orders for reasons other than abuse or neglect; for instance, where there is an irretrievable breakdown in family relationships or where the parents are unwilling or unable to care for the child. At 30 June 2006, around 30 out of every 1,000 Indigenous children aged 0-17 years were on Care and Protection Orders, compared with 5 per 1,000 non-Indigenous children.
EFFECTIVE ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH SYSTEMS
Poor living and working conditions have an impact on people's health and wellbeing. In 2004-05, diseases associated with poor environmental health such as asthma, scabies, influenza and pneumonia were more prevalent among Indigenous than non-Indigenous Australians. Indigenous people also had higher hospitalisation rates than non-Indigenous people for all diseases associated with poor environmental health. However, between 2001-02 and 2004-05, there were significant decreases in hospitalisation rates for intestinal infectious diseases, scabies, acute upper respiratory infections and influenza and pneumonia among Indigenous children aged 0-14 years.
Governments are working to improve the environmental health outcomes of Indigenous people by improving their access to housing and essential services such as power, water, sewerage and waste disposal. The number of discrete Indigenous communities without an organised sewerage system decreased from 91 in 2001, to 25 in 2006. However, a quarter of Indigenous people aged 15 years and over were living in overcrowded housing in 2004-05 (up to two-thirds of those in very remote areas), with little change since 2002. Increased funding and innovative housing proposals will be delivered through the Australian Government's new Australian Remote Indigenous Accommodation Program from July 2008.
ECONOMIC PARTICIPATION AND DEVELOPMENT
The extent to which people participate in the economy is closely related to their living standards and broader wellbeing. It can also influence how they interact at the family and community levels. Outcomes commonly associated with employment include increased income levels, better health and improved education outcomes, leading to enhanced self esteem. Expressed as a proportion of people in the labour force (i.e. employed plus unemployed), the full-time employment rate for Indigenous people increased from 45% to 52% between 1994 and 2004-05, and the part-time employment rate increased from 26% to 35% over the same period. In 2004-05, after adjusting for age differences between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations, Indigenous people were more likely than non-Indigenous people to be employed part time (35% compared with 28%) and less likely to be employed full time (54% compared with 69%).
Home ownership is an important indicator of wealth and saving, and is usually associated with positive employment and income indicators. While the proportion of Indigenous adults living in homes that were owned or being purchased by a member of the household increased from 22% in 1994 to 25% in 2004-05, this change was not statistically significant.
SUMMING UP - THE ROAD AHEAD
Raising the living standards and social and economic outcomes of Indigenous Australians continues to be a high priority for the Australian Government. The Australian Government's long-term vision is that Indigenous Australians will have the same opportunities as other Australians to make informed choices about their lives, realise their full potential in whatever they choose to do and take responsibility for managing their own affairs.
The Australian Government's Single Indigenous Budget Submission strategically targets resources through coordinated, whole-of-government proposals that leverage mainstream programs, as well as providing options for flexible funding. In 2006-07, total spending on Indigenous-specific programs was $3.3 billion (b). In the 2007-08 Budget, this commitment has been increased to $3.5b.
In December 2006, the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough, announced the Australian Government's Blueprint for Action in Indigenous Affairs, which recognises that different solutions are required for different locations.
The Government supports families and communities through flexible, individually tailored methods. Most Australian Government Indigenous programs are administered at the local and regional level through Indigenous Coordination Centres. These multi-agency units are 'one-stop-shops' that work with local people to broker innovative and flexible whole-of-government solutions to local and regional needs using both Indigenous-specific and mainstream funding.
Certain Indigenous communities with entrenched problems (such as violence, substance abuse, family and child abuse and high rates of self-harm) require intensive assistance. A tailored, whole-of-government intervention strategy may include support for local leaders to help stabilise the community, rebuild governance and build community capacity, and work towards the 'normalisation' of services - to provide the same basic infrastructure and services available to other Australians. On 21 June 2007 the Australian Government announced national emergency measures in the Northern Territory, designed to protect Aboriginal children from abuse and give them a better, safer future.
Council of Australian Governments (COAG) National Framework of Principles for Delivering Services to Indigenous Australians, last viewed September 2007, <http://www.coag.gov.au>
Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaCSIA):
FaCSIA, last viewed September 2007, <http://www.facsia.gov.au>
Indigenous Affairs Budget 2007-08, last viewed September 2007, <http://www.facsia.gov.au>
The Hon Mal Brough MP, Minister for FaCSIA, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs, National Institute of Governance Indigenous Affairs Governance Series, Blueprint for Action in Indigenous Affairs, last viewed September 2007, <http://www.facsia.gov.au>
Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision (SCRGSP) Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators
, Productivity Commission, last viewed September 2007, <http://www.pc.gov.au>
This page last updated 23 November 2012