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Grim reading: Closing The Gap report highlights 'snail's pace' progress

David Prestipino -

Australia's peak body representing the rights and welfare of First Nations children has echoed criticism that the status quo is failing Indigenous families and children.

SNAICC CEO Catherine Liddle said the Productivity Commission's third annual Closing The Gap report made for grim reading and clearly showed children were being failed by proposed reform, with more First Nations children being removed from their families.

"Fewer children are developmentally on track when starting school," Ms Liddle said.

"Our children are being driven backwards and the gap is becoming a chasm.

"We know change takes time, but it's been four years since we signed the National Partnership Agreement. Reform is happening at a snail's pace and governments have to pick up the momentum."

The non-government entity's concerns were shared by Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney after Wednesday's report found worsening outcomes in First Nations early childhood development, adult incarceration, displaced children and Indigenous suicide.

Ms Burney, who is in WA this week promoting the Indigenous Voice to Parliament said the latest data demonstrated a different approach was required to improve disadvantages among First Nations people and believed a yes vote could help address target shortfalls.

The annual report gave a snapshot of progress in the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, with data showing over-achieving in some areas but dire failures in others.

Only four of the 19 Closing the Gap targets were on track to be met: preschool enrolment, youth detention, employment and land subject to First Nations people's legal rights or interests.

"Progress has been made towards seven targets but not at the level required for the targets to be met on schedule ... the gap is not closing quickly enough," Ms Burney said.

The report found that, as of June 2023, 99.2 per cent of children were enrolled in preschool, but only 34.3 per cent commencing school were developmentally on track.

There were 2,151.1 Indigenous adults per 100,000 in prison in 2022, and 28.3 young people per 10,000 were in detention. The report noted 56.8 children per 1,000 were in out-of-home care, and 27.1 people per 100,000 took their own life in 2021.

Ms Liddle said the Productivity Commission highlighted the need for more action across many areas, so governments could be held accountable and any progress measured.

"Just letting us sit at the table is not enough to drive the change we need... listen to our solutions to improve the lives of our children and families, and work with us to make the change a reality," she said.

Productivity Commissioner Romlie Mokak said it was encouraging to see progress in areas such as education and training and that overcrowding in housing had been reduced.

"But progress needs to accelerate if the targets are to be met in these areas," he said.

While most targets have moved in the right direction, four targets showed areas were getting worse for Indigenous people, particularly First Nations children.

In 2021, 34.3 per cent of Indigenous children starting school were assessed as being developmentally on track, a decrease from 35.2 per cent in 2018, the baseline year, with the national target of 55 per cent unlikely to be met and the gap to non-Indigenous children widened.

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