When is indigenous disadvantage not disadvantaging?

The recent Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report highlighted a number of areas in which the ACT indigenous community is still experiencing significant disadvantage. These include health, education, housing, sports and recreation, the list continues. This week I used the opportunity, afforded to me by the Annual Report hearings, to enquire more closely into what the government is actually doing to make a difference.

It was nice to hear the Director-General, Natalie Howson, finally admit that there was a lot more work that had to be done! However, none of the answers given really satisfied the question, why are our indigenous students so far behind our non-indigenous students, and continue to be so with regards to the NAPLAN results.

In Education, if you are the Minister, then attendance at Koori preschools will make a difference, in the future. Or if you are from the education directorate, then your reasons for why there was an ongoing gap was because ‘school is a positive place’, ‘because of population increases’, ‘because there is better attendance’, ‘because there are more students enrolling in year 12’, but mostly, because they actually refused to address the question! (1:17:20).

Reading the Education Directorate Annual Report, you could almost be forgiven in thinking that our indigenous students were doing well – until you delve a little deeper. This took me to the NAPLAN site, but it was not long before it became very obvious that there was no difference over the last 10 years in the gap between our indigenous students and non-indigenous students in all areas of NAPLAN.

I was unable to ask the question about the lack of reporting on attendance of indigenous students at NAPLAN. In 2015 the attendance of indigenous students was 80.1% - 13.4% behind non-indigenous students. There were many other questions that could have been raised, but the lack of answers was marked.

Indigenous disadvantage is persistent, and in some areas it has worsened over time. The ACT Government’s policies in this area are fractured, or non-existent. And many instances exist of policy implementation without reference to the indigenous community. Much of this may have to do with a lack of whole of government approach to indigenous issues.

We call on the ACT government to start adopting a more whole of government approach – to policy development, to the design of programs for and with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and for reporting to the people of the ACT on the progress they are making in closing the gap.