On 10 February, Prime Minister Turnbull released the 2016 Closing the Gap report. He spoke of being ‘heartened’ at the ‘positive gains’ this year, while acknowledging that there had been ‘mixed results’.The ‘positive gains’ seemed a bit like cherry-picking from last year’s tree. It is good that the Indigenous infant mortality rate is declining, although this was also evident in 2015. While Indigenous mortality rates generally are also declining, the figure is difficult to interpret as ‘closing the gap’, since there are no new figures on life expectancy. The PM pointed to ‘almost no employment gap’ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous university graduates. Again, this obscures the main issue, which is that there is no ‘closing the gap’ in employment rates between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
As for the crime statistics buried deep in the report (see p 51), these are no different to the distressing figures quoted last year. Indigenous women are still 34 times more likely to be hospitalised for family violence than others, and Indigenous people still represented 27 per cent of all prisoners, while being only 3 per cent of the general population.
So what has changed since 2015, when Tony Abbott labelled the results in his Closing the Gap report ‘profoundly disappointing’? Is there any difference in the figures, or is the difference mainly in the spin?
STEPHEN GRAY teaches law at Monash University.