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New Productivity Commission report finds Closing the Gap targets ‘worsening’

David Prestipino -

Grim new data has revealed life outcomes for First Nations people have worsened and Australia is going backwards on key Closing the Gap targets, with rates of Indigenous suicide, adult incarceration and children in out-of-home care getting worse.

Of the 19 targets, five were on track – up from four – but three were trending backwards, and one had no improvement.

The Productivity Commission on Wednesday night released new data on eight of the 21 targets, with modest improvements in the life expectancy of First Nations people but grim results from other key data sets.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Linda Burney said there was "still a long way to go" five months on from the Voice to Parliament referendum, but welcomed news that the target of 91 per cent of Indigenous babies being born with healthy birth weight was now on track, having reached 89.6 per cent in 2021.

Incarceration rates for First Nations people had risen, with the target of reducing it by at least 15 per cent by 2031 seeming a long reach.

Suicide rates had also risen with about 29.9 per 100,000 Indigenous people dying by suicide in 2022 across NSW, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory, higher than the rate of the prvious two years and above the 2018 baseline of 25.1.

The target of reducing overrepresentation of Indigenous children in out-of-home care by 45 per cent was also failing.

In 2023, the rate was 57.2 per 1000 children, an increase from the 2019 baseline of 54.2 per cent.

"Based on progress from the baseline, the target is worsening," the Commission's report stated.

Assistant Indigenous Australians Minister Malarndirri McCarthy said the data showed progress in some areas but the latest results showed positive life outcomes for First Nations people were worsening.

"We need to do more to address the unacceptable results we continue to see, such as the number of children in out-of-home care and incarceration rates for First Nations youth and adults," she said.

The latest data comes just weeks after the Productivity Commission criticised governments for not doing enough to close the gap, finding a "business as usual approach" to Indigenous affairs was failing First Nations people.

Ms Burney said the latest round of data reinforced there was still a long way to go.

"The Albanese government is committed to strengthening our relationship with the Coalition of the Peaks and working in partnership to design and implement programs that will make a difference to lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians," she said.

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