Indigenous report card

The report commissioned by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) has found that rates of crime, child protection notifications and imprisonment have worsened between 1994 and 2002.

Compared with the wider population, the report also showed that indigenous Australians will die on average 17 years earlier, and are more likely to have poorer health overall.

In particular, Aborigines suffer higher rates of obesity and diabetes and are more likely to take up smoking.

“The fact that infant mortality is twice as high as it is for other Australians, the incidence of diabetes is two to three times and an incidence four times greater of so-called environmental diseases, that is things you can get from the circumstances in which you live,” Gary Banks, chairman of the committee which prepared the report, told ABC radio.

“For example, TB (tuberculosis), which has been largely eradicated in the rest of the community, is still an issue in indigenous communities.”

Mr Banks said that while there had been some areas of improvement, this was not enough to close the gap.

In the years 1994 to 2002, there were gains in the areas of employment, labour force and home ownership.

Another positive development has been the jump in retention rates for indigenous students completing year 12, rising from 36 percent in 2000 to 40 percent last year.

Mr Banks expressed optimism that the federal government’s new regime of Shared Responsibility Agreements (SRA’s) would help communities overcome social problems.

“Our consultations across the country have also revealed that there are initiatives occurring at the community level where positive outcomes are being achieved,” Mr Banks said.

“These are often at the instigation of indigenous people themselves…Many involve constructive new relationships with government and non-government bodies, as well as with the private sector.”

There are now 76 SRA’s operating throughout the country, in which individual communities apply for government funding in return for agreements to improve community standards.

Mulan, a settlement of 150 people in Western Australia’s Kimberley region, was one of the first to sign a SRA.

The government approved funding to install a fuel bowser after receiving assurances from Mulan that it would maintain proper waste disposal standards and ensure children showered every day and washed their faces twice a day.