The Productivity Commission’s new Closing the Gap data dashboard was launched on Wednesday without new data on more than 60 per cent of the new National Agreement’s targets and priorities.

What data is available paints a dire image for Closing the Gap; new data was published on just seven targets of the 17 socioeconomic outcome areas — with only three of the 17 areas on track to meet their targets.

For each of the four areas of priority reform — formal partnerships and shared decision-making, building the community-controlled sector, transforming government organisations, and shared access to data and information at a regional level — the dashboard says “reporting for this priority reform is yet to be developed”.

The 2020-21 Federal Budget provided $10.2 million over four years to the Productivity Commission to provide independent oversight and accountability to the Government on Closing the Gap.

Productivity Commissioner Romlie Mokak said the available data is a starting point, with more data to be released as it becomes available.

“This Dashboard release provides a starting point for monitoring on Closing the Gap from which we will build, with more data added to the Dashboard as it becomes available,” the Commissioner said.

“Not all of the key data collections that inform the Closing the Gap targets have annual data, which means some targets may not be updated every year.”

“However, the Agreement also includes indicators which support the targets and we will develop reporting for these indicators, some of which will have more frequent data collection.”

More data is expected when the Commission makes their full annual report late next month.

Of the targets with data reported, only targets on birthweight of newborns, numbers of children in preschool, and numbers of children in detention were on track to be met. Targets in the remaining four reported areas were not on track to be met.

Based on the current trend, Australia is not on track to close the gap in life expectancy between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people by 2031, despite the gap having narrowed.

Target 10, reducing the rate of adult Indigenous incarceration by 15 percent by 2031, is also running behind. Rather than falling since the beginning of the agreement, adult incarceration has risen by 3.6 per 100,000 adults.

Targets 12 and 14 also showed the gaps were widening in their areas.

Target 12 is to reduce the rate of overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care by 45 percent by 2031. To close the gap, the 2020 target was to have 52.1 Indigenous children per 1,000 in out-of-home care. Instead, the number has risen to 56.3 per 1,000 from the 2019 rate of 54.2 per 1,000.

Target 14 aims for a significant reduction in the suicide rate in Indigenous communities.

The suicide rate rose in 2019 for the third year in a row. At 27.1 lives lost per 100,000 people, the rate was 2.6 per 100,000 higher than projections.

Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt said the trends demonstrate the need for more work towards the targets.

“It is encouraging to see sustained trend of good progress in outcome areas related to children’s health, education and the youth detention target. A strong, healthy and safe childhood is the foundation of success in later life,” he said.

“For some other targets, change is not yet in the desired direction. This reinforces the need for concerted effort to reverse the longer-term trends in these outcome areas.”

“We expect to achieve these targets by changing the way we work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.”

Of the areas that are on track, experts are concerned that the effects of COVID-19 may be showing a false positive.

Andreea Lachsz, Head of Policy, Communications and Strategy at the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service said a positive result in youth incarceration is more likely to be a result of concerns around COVID-19 transmission in prison than good policy.

“The courts have been taking into consideration the pandemic and its impacts on people in places of detention, such as when they make determinations in relation to bail, and youth justice has been making quite a concerted effort to get kids out of detention because of the pandemic,” she said.

“There remains the question of what’s going to happen when those sorts of considerations are no longer at the forefront of people’s minds?

“I wouldn’t be celebrating this as a success, or even a small victory, because a lot of this slight decrease has been out of the government’s control as a result of COVID.”

The first annual data report of the new National Agreement on Closing the Gap is scheduled for July 29.

By Sarah Smit