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National Indigenous Reform Agreement: Performance Assessment 2013-14

Performance assessment report

This report was released on 2 December 2015. It is the sixth report in the series of performance assessments for the 'Closing the Gap' targets.

This is the first performance assessment prepared by the Productivity Commission. It follows a request from the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in May 2015. Previous assessments were prepared by the COAG Reform Council (CRC).

In making its assessments, the Commission has sought to ensure a degree of comparability with the assessments made by the CRC. However, as well as assessing progress against the targets, the Commission also looked at how the broader Indigenous reporting framework and policy evaluation efforts could be improved.

Download the report

See also: Detailed 2012-13 National Indigenous Reform Agreement performance data

  • Key points
  • Media release
  • Contents summary
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians experience profound economic and social disadvantage. It is manifest in many ways, affects both the young and the old, and can span generations.
  • To lend impetus to the task of addressing that disadvantage, COAG has committed to a number of targets for reducing the disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in life expectancy, health, education and employment outcomes.
  • This report is the sixth in a series of performance assessments for the Closing the Gap targets (with assessments made previously by the COAG Reform Council).
    • Like other components of the Indigenous reporting framework, the focus of this report series is on monitoring broad outcomes rather than establishing what works in bridging outcomes gaps. Much less is known about the latter.
    • As well as assessing progress against the targets, the Commission has therefore looked at how the broader reporting framework and policy evaluation efforts could be improved.
  • At the national level, progress in meeting individual gap targets has been mixed.
    • Good progress has been made in reducing outcomes gaps in child mortality and Year 12 (or equivalent) attainment rates. And though the target of providing access to early childhood education for all Indigenous four year olds in remote areas by 2013 was not met, the evidence suggests a positive outcomes picture.
    • But despite considerable effort and investment, little or no progress has been made in closing gaps for life expectancy and reading and numeracy. And employment gaps have increased rather than narrowed.
    • Meeting these latter targets seems an unlikely prospect at this stage.
  • Outcomes at the jurisdictional level have generally been consistent with national outcomes.
  • In many areas, outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians continue to be markedly worse in more remote areas. Even where considerable progress has been made in closing national level gaps, there is still much to do outside of the major population centres.
  • Looking to the future, there is a strong case for rationalising reporting on Indigenous outcomes and disadvantage.
  • While tracking progress towards an outcomes end point can inform policy making, it is not a substitute for examining the role of specific policies in reducing disadvantage, and assessing their cost effectiveness in absolute terms and relative to other approaches.
  • The critical role that robust policy evaluation could, and should, play in improving outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians is widely acknowledged.
    • Though such evaluation can be challenging, a much stronger evaluation culture in the Indigenous policy area should be promoted. It is important that such evaluations consider the effectiveness of mainstream services which account for 80 per cent of Indigenous expenditure.
  • Options for invigorating evaluation include: an overarching review of policy evaluation in the Indigenous area; COAG committing to evaluating policy settings in a target area or a sub-set of policies in a particular area (say education); and adding a procedural, evaluation-focused target to the Closing the Gap initiative.

Background information

Leonora Nicol (Media, Publications and Web) 02 6240 3239 / 0417 665 443

A change in approach is needed to improve outcomes for Indigenous Australians

It is becoming increasingly clear that a number of the 'Closing the Gap' targets will not be met according to a Productivity Commission report released today.

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) committed to a number of targets for reducing the disparity in life expectancy, health, education and employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The report monitors progress against these targets.

Despite considerable effort and investment, little or no progress has been made at the national level in closing gaps for life expectancy and reading and numeracy. Employment gaps have increased rather than narrowed.

'Meeting the targets for life expectancy, reading and numeracy and employment seems an unlikely prospect at this stage', Peter Harris, Chair of the Productivity Commission, said.

On the positive side, the report shows that good progress has been made in reducing outcomes gaps in child mortality and Year 12 (or equivalent) attainment rates at the national level.

And while the target of providing access to early childhood education for all Indigenous four years olds in remote areas was not met, the evidence points to positive outcomes.

A much greater emphasis must be placed on policy evaluation, the report states.

'If we are to see improvements in outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians we need to move further into the detail, examining which policies and programs work better than others and why. Our current focus is on setting targets and monitoring outcomes. This must be complemented by evaluation,' Productivity Commission Chair Peter Harris said.

The report also states that there is a strong case for rationalising the current framework for reporting on Indigenous outcomes and disadvantage.

'There is a wide array of information available to tell the story of Indigenous disadvantage, but surely the nature and significance of that disadvantage is not in dispute. Removing some of the duplicate reporting could be a means of freeing up resources for policy evaluation,' Peter Harris said.

This is the first year the Productivity Commission has produced the National Indigenous Reform Agreement Performance Assessment. The assessment was previously undertaken by the COAG Reform Council.

Background information

Leonora Nicol (Media, Publications and Web) 02 6240 3239 / 0417 665 443

Chapters 2 to 7 present the Commission's assessment of progress towards meeting the individual gap targets.

Progress on the new attendance gap target is detailed in chapter 5 in conjunction with the assessment of the literacy and numeracy target.

Chapter 8 looks at the scope to rationalise the currently complex and duplicative reporting framework; as well as at the much bigger role that policy evaluation should play in improving understanding of what works in bridging outcomes gaps.

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