Australia struggles to 'close the gap' in Indigenous living standards

A depiction of the Australian Aboriginal Flag is seen on a window sill at the home of indigenous Muruwari elder Rita Wright, a member of the "Stolen Generations", in Sydney, Australia, January 19, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

SYDNEY, Nov 29 (Reuters) - Australia is failing to meet almost half its targets for improving the lives of Indigenous people, including on the problems of adult incarceration and suicide, according to a government assessment published on Wednesday.

Australia's roughly one million Indigenous citizens have inhabited the land for roughly 60,000 years but track well below national averages on most socio-economic measures and suffer disproportionately high rates of suicide, domestic violence and imprisonment.

Launched in 2008 when the government delivered a historic apology to Indigenous Australians for mistreatment, the "closing the gap" initiative targets inequalities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

The first annual report card since 2020 found conditions are on track for only four of 18 targets, with conditions worsening or not on track for seven areas including adult incarceration, suicide and children in out-of-home care. No new data was available for the other targets, several of which are waiting for analysis of 2021 census data.

The suicide rate for First Nations Peoples was twice the national average in 2020 at 27.9 per 100,000 versus 12.

"Slow progress in closing the gap is understandably frustrating to so many First Nations communities and organisations who are working incredibly hard to see a better way of life,” said the assistant minister for Indigenous Australians, Malarndirri McCarthy.

“We must work together, listen to our communities and re-focus our efforts to close the gap and improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians."

Progress is being made in areas including preschool enrolments, youth detention and land rights.

The rate of children enrolled in early childhood education hit 96.7% in 2021, up sharply from 76.7% in 2016 and ahead of the target of 95% by 2025.

The government committed A$1.2 billion ($804.60 million) in its October budget, its first since winning power in May, to support First Nations Peoples, including providing funding for 500 indigenous health workers.

($1 = 1.4914 Australian dollars)

Reporting by Lewis Jackson; Editing by Robert Birsel

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