This week's Closing the Gap report from the Prime Minister shows that, like so many other social and health challenges in Australia, things are tougher for people in remote areas. It strengthens the case for a specific focus on more remote areas in work relating to access to fundamental services like education and health.
The National Rural Health Alliance is encouraged that, in political terms, Closing the Gap remains a bipartisan national goal, despite the mixed report on its progress so far.
Given the small improvements in Indigenous life expectancy to date, progress will need to accelerate considerably if the gap is to be closed by 2031. Life expectancy for Indigenous males living in outer regional, remote and very remote areas was estimated to be 0.7 years lower than for those living in major cities and inner regional areas, and 0.8 years lower for females.
As well, reading and numeracy rates vary sharply by remoteness area. In 2013, 81 per cent of Indigenous students in metropolitan areas met or exceeded the national minimum standard for Year 9 reading, compared with only 31 per cent in very remote areas.
While improvements in year 12 or equivalent attainment have been achieved, results vary sharply by remoteness area. Over 68 per cent of Indigenous 20-24 year olds in inner regional areas had a year 12 or equivalent qualification, compared with 38.5 per cent in very remote areas. Mainstream Indigenous employment rates are also much lower in very remote areas.
Closing the Gap’s target of ensuring all Indigenous four-year-olds in remote communities have access to early childhood education within six years is very important, given evidence that this has significant benefit for children and their future learning outcomes.
If the initiatives in education and employment in Closing the Gap result in better health outcomes for people in remote areas, then that will be especially pleasing.
The Alliance will continue to do whatever it can to help Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders to work with governments and other agencies to obtain fair and equivalent access to education, work and health. Governments must recognise the need for a specific focus on more remote areas in work relating to access to these fundamental services.
Tim Kelly – Chairperson: 0438 011 383
Gordon Gregory – Executive Director: 02 6285 4660