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Report Card: The Wellbeing Of Aboriginal Australians Is Improving But Jail Rates Are Still High And Literacy Is Poor

Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians have seen some improvement in health, education and economic wellbeing.

However, justice and mental health issues continue to cause concern, according to the 2014 Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report, the sixth in a series, released by the Productivity Commission.

According to the report, the most comprehensive so far, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians:

  • Have higher incomes, lower reliance on income support, increased home ownership, and higher rates of full time and professional employment. However, improvements have slowed in recent years.
  • Increased life expectancy and lower child mortality. However, rates of disability and chronic disease remain high, mental health outcomes have not improved, and hospitalisation rates for self-harm have increased.
  • Post-secondary education has improved but there has been virtually no change in literacy and numeracy results at school, which are poor in remote areas
  • Adult imprisonment rates worsening and there’s no change in high rates of juvenile detention and family and community violence.

Peter Harris, chairman of the Productivity Commission, says it has been almost three years since the last report.

The changes, according to Harris, include:

“For this report we made a concerted effort to increase the involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Their input contributed to significant developments, including broadening the focus from overcoming disadvantage to improving wellbeing, and the inclusion of new indicators, such as Indigenous language revitalisation and maintenance, valuing Indigenous cultures (including experiences of racism and discrimination) and participation in decision making.”

Mortality rates for children improved between 1998 and 2012, particular for children under one-year-old whose mortality rates more than halved (from 14 to 5 deaths per 1000 live births). The proportion of low birth weight babies has decreased.

The proportion of 20–24 year olds completing year 12 or above increased to 59% in 2012-13 from 45% in 2008.

Adults with or working towards post-school qualifications increased to 43% in 2012-13 from 26% in 2002.

Those whose main income was from employment increased to 41% in 2012-13 from 32% in 2002, with a corresponding fall in the proportion on income support. Increasing numbers were in full time and managerial positions.

On the negative side, there has been little or no change in students achieving national minimum standards for reading, writing and numeracy from 2008 to 2013.

And the adult imprisonment rate increased 57% between 2000 and 2013, as this chart shows:

Juvenile detention rates increased sharply between 2000-01 and 2007-08, and fluctuated since at around 24 times the rate for non-Indigenous youth.

And the relatively high incidence of family and community violence were unchanged between 2002 and 2008, and there’s little change in alcohol and substance use and harm.

The high rates of disability and chronic disease are also changed.

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