First Australians See Slow Progress in Bid for Economic Equality

(Bloomberg) -- Indigenous Australians, the nation’s poorest and most disadvantaged group, have made ground in health and childhood education but still lag their countrymen in most key measures.

Four of seven targets to improve disadvantage aren’t being met, which is still the best result since 2011, the government’s annual Closing the Gap report on Monday showed. In a bid to help erase economic disparity, indigenous businesses had received more than A$1 billion ($780 million) in government-commissioned contracts since 2015, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said.

“We cannot close the gap if we do not have equal participation in the economy,” Turnbull told parliament.

The report shows where Australia stands in its bid to end differences in health care, education, and job opportunities between the nation’s 650,000 Aborigines and other Australians, about 230 years after European settlement. Indigenous Australians populated the continent at least 50,000 years ago and make up about 3 percent of the population.

The program, initiated by then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2008, has sometimes struggled for momentum due to changes in government leadership. Over the eight years to 2016, about A$23.8 billion was spent through the program to improve conditions for the indigenous, the Australian newspaper reported on Monday.

Measures On Target:

  • Halve the gap in mortality rates for indigenous children under five by 2018
  • 95 percent of all indigenous four-year-olds enrolled in early childhood education by 2025 
  • Halve the gap for indigenous Australians aged 20-24 in Year 12 attainment or equivalent attainment rates by 2020

Measures Not On Target:

  • Close the gap in life expectancy by 2031
  • Close the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous school attendance by 2018
  • Halve the gap for indigenous children in reading, writing and numeracy achievements by 2018
  • Halve the gap in employment outcomes between indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians by 2018

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