Gillard admits it will be extremely difficult to close the life-expectancy gap by the target year of 2031 with current progress.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard wants indigenous people to take greater responsibility for improving their own lives, after admitting the task was proving difficult for government.
Last month Gillard delivered Labor’s third report card on actions taken to improve indigenous health, employment and education.
The report shows there’s been progress on meeting just two of six key targets - to half the mortality rate for indigenous children under five by 2018 and ensure all four-year-olds in remote communities had access to early childhood education by 2013.
There’s been little progress to date on halving gaps in literacy and numeracy, Year 12 completion rates and employment outcomes.
And when it comes to closing the life expectancy gap - which is currently 11.5 years for men and 9.7 years for women - things may be going backwards.
That’s because non-indigenous life expectancy is expected to rise over the coming decades.
Gillard admitted reaching parity by 2031 would be “extremely challenging”.
“No one thinks it can be achieved sooner,” she said.
“The life expectancy of indigenous men will need to increase by over 20 years and the life expectancy of indigenous women will need to increase by over 16 years.”
Aboriginal leaders welcomed Gillard’s commitment to work more closely with them to reach health equality in a generation.
But the PM’s call for “changes in behaviour” from indigenous people was criticised in some quarters.
Gillard called on indigenous people to: “To take care of your children, to take a job when you find one, to create a safe environment, to send your kids to school, pay your rent, save up for a home, respect good social norms and respect the law.”
Indigenous social justice commissioner Mick Gooda agreed it was important for Aboriginal people to take responsibility for their own lives but argued many face serious obstacles.
“I think we’ve got to be careful of playing a game here where we start blaming the victim too much,” Gooda told Sky News.
“It’s nice to say `Take a job when it’s available’ but are there jobs available?
“Are the job networks working towards getting our people into jobs?”
Gooda says throwing money at the problem wasn’t the answer. Rather, there needed to be better measurement of progress and then targeted spending.
Opposition indigenous affairs spokesman Nigel Scullion was much more scathing.
“The prime minister had the gall to tell indigenous communities that their behaviour is the reason why so little progress has been made, instead of her government’s complete lack of focus and frivolous spending,” he said in a statement.
Australian Greens senator Rachel Siewert said it was inappropriate for Gillard to urge Aboriginal people to take more responsibility while simultaneously restricting how they spend welfare payments.
“The government has continued and expanded income quarantining,” Siewert said.
“And the bulk of the investment from her government in closing the gap in health disadvantage continues to be made through mainstream services that don’t reach those in need.”
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott backed Gooda’s call for more detailed reporting on efforts to close the gap.
“Why don’t we know how we are going?” he told parliament, adding statistics should be published monthly so outcomes could be more closely scrutinised.
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