Friday, April 24, 2009

Australia 2020 Summit - Options for the future of Indigenous Australia

Here are "Options for the future of Indigenous Australia" items accepted by the Australian Government in its "Responding to the Australia 2020 Summit" on 22 April 2009:

Australia's Indigenous people experience unacceptable disadvantage. Through the Closing the Gap strategy, the Government is taking action to address Indigenous disadvantage and is focusing on achieving the following targets agreed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG):

  • close the life expectancy gap within a generation

  • halve the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous children under five within a decade

  • halve the gap in reading, writing and numeracy achievements for children within a decade

  • halve the gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians within a decade

  • provide access to early childhood education for all four years olds in remote communities within five years

  • halve the gap for Indigenous students in year 12 attainment or equivalent attainment rates by 2020.

The Government recognises that achieving these targets will require sustained action across all levels of government and all sectors.

Some of the key themes that were raised by the Indigenous Stream during the 2020 Summit included formal constitutional recognition of Indigenous people, establishing bipartisan dialogue between Indigenous people and government, valuing the cultural history and knowledge of Indigenous people, closing the gap in all areas and achieving better social and economic outcomes. The issues faced by Indigenous Australians were also a clear priority for many other streams across the Summit. Ideas and aspirations for the future of Indigenous Australia were also raised by the Health Stream, Creativity Stream, Sustainability Stream, Communities Stream, Productivity Stream, Governance Stream and Rural Stream.

The Indigenous Stream developed a broad range of ambitions, themes and ideas that have influenced and guided the Government's policy in this area, including:

  • Indigenous cultural education and knowledge centre - Indigenous culture is a critical part of Australia's identity and strengthening it is a core element of sustaining a strong and healthy Indigenous community. It was a prominent theme at the Summit and was raised across multiple streams. The Government agrees that the celebration of Indigenous culture in this way will complement and contribute to its core development policies for Indigenous Australia. An Indigenous Knowledge Centre would build on the current role played by the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and could:

    • Become a national gathering place for the celebration and discussion of Indigenous culture, in a physical or 'virtual' sense

    • Become a reference point for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture

    • Engage in research to harness traditional knowledge to support sustainable management of country

    • Support the education and understanding of Indigenous culture and affairs across Australia and preserve Indigenous heritage

As the first step in the establishment of a centre, the community will be consulted on its form.

We are therefore initiating a feasibility study to engage the Indigenous and wider communities and existing institutions to develop options for the most effective way to strengthen and support Indigenous culture.

  • Council of Australian Governments Working Group on Indigenous Reform - Many of the ideas raised at the 2020 Summit supported the development of reforms recently agreed by COAG at their November 2008 meeting. At this meeting, all Australian Governments backed up their commitment to closing the gap on Indigenous disadvantage with $4.6 billion in initiatives across early childhood development, health, housing, economic development and remote service delivery.

The following tables provide the Government's response to the ideas raised by the Indigenous Stream at the 2020 Summit.

Key ideas being taken forward by the Government

Topic

2020 proposed ideas

Government response

Indigenous Early Childhood Development

  • Focus on early intervention/prevention for early childhood.

  • Establish an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children's Fund to tackle long term problems through the development of services to redress unmet need.

  • Re-establish and reinvigorate multi-functional childcare centres.

  • Place a child health nurse in every school, and give young mothers and their babies in the community access to this service.

  • Develop an education policy framework that provides genuine choice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their parents and can integrate health strategies in an early childhood intervention strategy.

  • Share information about good practices, so as to keep families functioning well and staying together.

Agree in-principle. In October 2008, the Council of Australian Government's (COAG) first National Partnership (NP) was agreed, covering Indigenous Early Childhood Development. Through the agreement, the Commonwealth and the states and territories will work together to improve the early childhood outcomes of Indigenous children. The National Partnership comprises $564.6 million of joint funding over six years to address the needs of Indigenous children in their early years, and reflects many of the ideas raised at the Summit.

As part of the initiative, 35 Children and Family Centres in areas of high Indigenous population and disadvantage will be established across Australia to deliver integrated services that offer early learning, child care and family support programs. The funding will also increase access to ante-natal care, teenage reproductive and sexual health services, and child and maternal health services for Indigenous Australians.

COAG has agreed to ensure that all children have access to quality early childhood education. In July 2008, COAG agreed to the development of a National Early Childhood Development Strategy during 2009. The strategy will provide the framework for a comprehensive approach to early childhood, including for assisting vulnerable children.

Broader issues on family support will also be considered by the Australian Social Inclusion Board and the work on the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion.

Health and Learning Compacts

  • Health and Education - introduce individual learning and health compacts (case management) for each Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child to ensure that children who need help receive it promptly and effectively.

Agree. In the 2008-09 Budget, the Government committed $56.4 million over four years to expand intensive literacy and numeracy programs in schools. This funding will include support for teachers to enable them to prepare and maintain individual learning plans for every Indigenous student up to Year 10.

Additional Schooling Support

Also raised by:

Productivity

A new education framework should be established. The following could be included in the framework:

  • Availability of high quality education, including boarding schools and hostels

  • Access to away-from-home foster families to stay with at weekends for students away from home

  • Funding through ABSTUDY, private school scholarships, government funding and community schooling

  • Encourage high-performing young professionals to work as teachers alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander educators in remote schools

  • Expand ABSTUDY to all post-secondary Indigenous students to facilitate engagement with education and ultimately the workforce

  • Introduce 500 'Mabo Scholarships' for Indigenous students in research and higher level degrees similar to the Endeavour scholarships.

Agree in-principle. The Government is introducing a range of new support mechanisms for Indigenous education options. In 2008, the Government committed $20 million over three years from 2009-10 as a contribution towards secondary scholarships for Indigenous students to attend boarding schools. The funds will be managed by the Australians Indigenous Education Foundation, with additional funds which more than match the Government contribution expected to be raised from corporate, philanthropic and private sources over the life of the initiative.

The Government is also providing $10 million to leverage private and state funding for six existing Clontarf Academies, six new academies from 2009-10, and a further three new academies from 2010-11. The additional funding represents the first stage of a long term commitment by the Government to helping the Clontarf Foundation to expand its network of academies throughout Australia. This initial $10 million investment will enable Clontarf to expand its services in Western Australia, the Northern Territory and other interested states.

In the 2008-09 Budget, the Government also committed $28.9 million over four years to construct and operate three new boarding colleges for Indigenous secondary students in the Northern Territory.

The National Education Agreement agreed by COAG in November 2008 includes a focus on outcomes for Indigenous students, with a particular focus on literacy and numeracy. Enhanced arrangements for teaching and school leadership are being progressed through the Improving Teacher Quality and Low Socio-Economic Status National Partnership Agreements, including increased opportunities to gain qualifications that form part of pathways into teaching for Indigenous education workers.

National Indigenous Health Equality Council

  • Establish a comprehensive health strategy to eradicate diseases such as trachoma and to tackle alcohol and drugs.

Agree. The Government is strongly committed to achieving health equality for Indigenous Australians. The National Indigenous Health Equality Council was launched in July 2008 to assist in developing and monitoring health-related goals to support the Government's commitments on improving Indigenous life expectancy and reducing child mortality.

The National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission (NHHRC) is also in the process of making recommendations regarding long term macro reforms to improve Australia's health system (including for Indigenous and rural communities). These recommendations should be finalised in mid-2009.

The Government has committed funding to states and territories to provide additional drug and alcohol rehabilitation services to Indigenous communities, and is providing funding to tackle high rates of smoking.

COAG is also working to ensure that the Closing the Gap targets are being supported across a range of financial arrangements between the Commonwealth and state governments. The National Healthcare Agreement agreed by COAG in November 2008 includes a commitment to achieving health outcomes for Indigenous Australians comparable to the broader population. The Indigenous Health National Partnership also provides an additional $1.6 billion over four years to expand primary health care and targeted prevention activities to reduce chronic disease for Indigenous Australians.

Eradicate Trachoma in Indigenous Children

Also raised by:

Helath

  • Eradicate trachoma amongst Indigenous children within five years through a comprehensive health strategy. This could include a national hand-washing campaign in Indigenous communities.

Trachoma is a preventable and treatable disease which still causes blindness in an unacceptable number of Indigenous Australians. The Government has committed $58.3m to expand eye and ear health services for Indigenous Australians. This includes $16m to address trachoma.

Indigenous Economic Development Strategy

Also raised by:

Productivity

  • Economic Development Strategy - recognise the importance of jobs and make improvements to private philanthropic and business partnerships with Indigenous enterprises, greater corporate participation via incentives such as tax concessions.

  • Provide tax incentives and concessions to encourage higher levels of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander engagement in private enterprise and entrepreneurship. Some groups and individuals cautioned that tax incentives and concessions need careful consideration because they do not always achieve the desired results.

  • Provide incentives to encourage people to move into employment.

  • Include incentives for self-help and development of skills that support independence in government funding.

  • Explore options and opportunities for increased employment of Indigenous people in the private sector.

  • Establish an entrepreneurial fund, Indigenous Business Alliance clusters, corporate partnerships, performance targets and performance indicators in government contracts involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander enterprises.

  • Conduct a national review of Indigenous businesses and an annual survey of them.

  • Improve the skills of local people, particularly Aboriginal people, before importing labour.

  • Establish a national awards scheme for organisations proactive in training and employing Indigenous people.

Agree in-principle. On 29 November 2008, COAG agreed to a five year National Partnership on Indigenous Economic Participation. The Commonwealth and state governments will invest $228.8 million to assist up to 13,000 Indigenous Australians in obtaining employment. This National Partnership will contribute to meeting the national target set by COAG in March 2008 to halve the gap in Indigenous employment outcomes within a decade.

The reforms to the Community Development Employment Program, the Indigenous Employment Program and the new Job Services Australia (to be introduced on 1 July 2009) include a strong focus on job readiness and skills development for Indigenous people.

Under the reforms to the Indigenous Employment Program, a high profile program will be created that recognises and supports significant achievements in Indigenous employment.

The Prime Minister has pledged Government support to the Australian Employment Covenant, a private sector initiative to create 50,000 jobs for Indigenous Australians announced by the CEO of Fortescue Metals Group, Mr Andrew Forrest.

The Government is also developing a wider Indigenous Economic Development Strategy to provide a framework to guide government investment and to work with Indigenous Australians and the corporate sector to increase Indigenous participation in employment and business. This strategy is expected to be finalised in late 2009.

In addition, the Government is currently conducting a wide-ranging review of Australia's tax system, including incentives for workforce participation and skill formation.

Indigenous Employment

  • Exploring options and opportunities for increased employment of Indigenous people in the private sector.

  • Improving private philanthropic and business partnerships with Indigenous enterprises and encouraging greater corporate participation with incentives such as tax concessions.

  • Recognising the importance of jobs and encouraging people to move into employment.

Agree. From 1 July 2009, the Government is introducing new employment services called Job Services Australia, and reforms to the Indigenous Employment Program and to the Community Development Employment Program (CDEP), that include a strong focus on job readiness and skills development for Indigenous people..

On 30 October 2008, the Prime Minister pledged the Government's support to the Australian Employment Covenant (AEC), a private sector initiative to create 50,000 jobs for Indigenous Australians announced by the CEO of Fortescue Metals Group, Mr Andrew Forrest. The AEC reflects the Summit's recognition of the importance of increasing employment opportunities for Indigenous people.

Under the AEC the Government will make resources available to:

  • Coordinate and facilitate training to the appropriate job standards of the employing industry

  • Facilitate post-placement and mentor support for eligible Indigenous Australians in guaranteed AEC jobs

  • Help with the take up of AEC jobs by eligible Indigenous job seekers through referral, placement and support services.

The Australian Employment Covenant will also be supported by Job Services Australia and reforms to the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) program and the Indigenous Employment Program, as well as the wider Indigenous Economic Development Strategy to be further developed in 2009.

Indigenous Reform - Remote Service Delivery

  • Better coordination of services between the states and territories and the Commonwealth.

  • Renewed emphasis on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander delivery models.

  • The creation of a 'clearing house' in the form of a database that includes all Indigenous programs, to provide a central link in the Indigenous community for the provision of services.

  • Develop service delivery mechanisms that are people-centred and convenient. For example, a 'one-stop-shop' community hub where services are delivered by people who are able to coordinate across governments and agencies and are not confined to their service 'silo'.

Agree in-principle. On 29 November 2008, COAG agreed to a new National Partnership on Indigenous Remote Service Delivery to improve the delivery of services in 26 remote Indigenous locations. The Commonwealth and state governments are providing $291.2 million over six years to improve access to services by Indigenous Australians in remote areas.

The employment services being introduced through Job Services Australia from 1 July 2009 include arrangements to enhance collaboration and cooperation across services, including Service Level Agreements between Job Services Australia service providers and Community Development Employment Project program (CDEP) organisations where this operate.

To further build understanding of effective Indigenous initiatives, the Government is providing funding in 2008-09 for a Closing the Gap clearing house through agreed joint funding arrangements with the states and territories. The clearing house will operate as a knowledge management service run by research specialists. It will provide a central repository of evidence and links to a range of existing data that can be accessed by interested stakeholders. It will build an evidence base that details effective, successful interventions to address Indigenous disadvantage.

Government Accountability

  • New independent mechanisms with teeth and sanctions to monitor accountability of governments, with significant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander involvement.

  • Assess senior public sector managers' performance against Indigenous-specific outcomes and indicators.

  • Build accountability, reporting and monitoring in Indigenous policy initiatives, either through: establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Productivity Commission, involving significant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation or building on existing frameworks, such as the Productivity Commission having responsibility to monitor, be a 'watchdog' and report on progress

Agree in-principle. The Government has already accepted and established accountability at the highest level through the annual Prime Ministerial statement on Closing the Gap.

On 29 November 2008, COAG agreed to the National Indigenous Reform Agreement (NIRA) which sets out the objectives, outcomes, outputs, performance measures and benchmarks that all governments have committed to achieving in order to close the gap in Indigenous disadvantage. The COAG Reform Council will report to the Prime Minister on the performance of all jurisdictions in relation to each National Agreement, and independently assess whether performance benchmarks have been achieved before an incentive payment to reward nationally significant reforms under a National Partnership is made.

Commonwealth, state and territory treasurers also agreed in January 2008 to the development of a national framework for reporting expenditure on services to Indigenous Australians, including expenditure from all funding sources on both Indigenous-specific and mainstream services, with an emphasis on 'on the ground' service provision. The Productivity Commission acts as the secretariat for this framework.

Senate Estimates Committee on Indigenous Matters

  • Build accountability, reporting and monitoring in Indigenous policy initiatives by establishing a parliamentary committee, possibly a Senate estimates committee, to examine government expenditure directed to the benefit of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Such a committee should be able to scrutinise expenditure in the areas of health education, policing law enforcement, and employment services.

On Friday 24 October 2008 and 27 February 2009, the Senate's Community Affairs Committee held special hearings on Indigenous matters. This followed a Senate resolution on 26 August 2008 where the Senate agreed to provide for future estimates hearings to include a separate time for a hearing on Indigenous matters.

The national performance reporting framework being developed by the COAG also aims to increase accountability for and improve reporting and monitoring of Indigenous policy initiatives.

National Indigenous Representative Body

  • Establishment of a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representative body. It should be established after considering the nature of its role and relationship with government, the corporate sector and the wider community, and the options for its structure.

Agree. The Government is committed to creating a National Indigenous Representative Body to give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people a voice in national affairs. This will not involve the re-establishment of an ATSIC-style body or the transfer of legislative power. Extensive consultation was held in 2008 with Indigenous and wider communities. A second phase of consultation is being led by an independent steering committee of Indigenous leaders, convened by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner. Recommendations from the steering committee to the Government are expected in July 2009.

UN Declaration of Rights

  • Support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Agree. The Government publicly stated its support for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on 3 April 2009.

Indigenous Memorial Service

  • Hold a memorial service to commemorate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who served in or demonstrated exceptional courage in war.

A commemorative event of this nature has been held annually since 1999. A memorial service was also held on 9 July 2008 at the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Memorial in Canberra, as part of the National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) celebrations throughout Australia. The service combined Indigenous culture with traditional military culture and honoured the Indigenous men and women who played an active role in protecting Australia in times of war and peace.

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