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Closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.



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Prime Minister of Australia

Media Release

Closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians

02 July 2009

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) today agreed on further concrete steps to help close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

COAG agreed to:

z Move towards national licensing arrangements for stores in remote Indigenous communities z Strict reporting requirements and timelines for States and Territories, to measure progress towards closing the gap z Target investments in educational funding towards improving educational outcomes for Indigenous Australians

A regulatory scheme for licensing remote community stores

Indigenous Australians often struggle to access nutritious food.

In some Indigenous communities, the only available fresh food is both expensive and of poor quality.

This is a major cause of the continuing life expectancy gap, contributing to high levels of chronic disease including diabetes.

COAG has reached an in principle agreement to a nationally consistent licensing scheme for remote community stores. This would mean that stores in remote communities will have to meet certain standards to gain a licence.

Licensing will help deliver food security to Indigenous people living in remote areas - regular, reliable access to affordable, high quality food.

The experience of the Northern Territory Emergency Response has been that stores licensing has led to substantial benefits.

Community members have access to a wider range of nutritious food, and families are choosing to purchase this food and take responsibility for their own health.

This policy agreement will be developed by the COAG Working Group on Indigenous Reform, chaired by Minister Jenny Macklin, and will report to COAG with a proposed strategy on food security by the end of the year.

Strict reporting on closing the gap

The Commonwealth, States and Territories have agreed to additional reporting - every six months - on progress in implementing the Closing the Gap reforms. The first of these reports will come to COAG later this year.

States and Territories will report on progress in implementing the Indigenous specific and mainstream National Partnerships agreed in each of the following areas:

z Early childhood z Schooling z Health

z Housing

For example, they will report on success in reducing smoking and risky drinking; provision of antenatal services for young women; and the provision of early learning services.

These National Partnerships will see the delivery of:

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z Universal access to preschool for 15 hours a week, 40 weeks per year for Indigenous children; z Reduced housing overcrowding in remote areas; z Pre-school meals programs; z Early intervention and specialist teachers for low achievers; z Increased provision of maternal and child health services for Indigenous children and their mothers; z A minimum of 35 Children and Family Centres in urban, regional and remote areas with high Indigenous

populations.

By agreeing on clear priorities, specific targets and trajectories, and stringent reporting mechanisms, States and Territories will be better placed to work together to close the gap.

$46.4 million will be provided to facilitate the collection and collation of data on progress towards closing the gap.

Indigenous Education Statement

Towards the Development of an Indigenous Education Action Plan will progress better educational outcomes for Indigenous children in terms of enrolment, attendance and retention, literacy and numeracy.

COAG has agreed to target the significant existing investments in education to closing the gap in educational outcomes for young Indigenous Australians.

While these funds will deliver benefits across the broader community, today’s agreement means there is no chance they will bypass many of the members of our community that need them most.

Under the existing education agreements between the Commonwealth and the States and Territories to achieve better education outcomes, the States and Territories are required to address and measure Indigenous educational outcomes at the regional and local level.

States and Territories will be required to develop specific strategies at the regional and local school level to improve enrolment, attendance and retention rates, literacy and numeracy attainment and parental and community engagement.

Recent research commissioned by the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and the Department of Health suggests that the two greatest contributors to improving Indigenous life expectancy are employment status and education.

The new Indigenous Education Action Plan will ensure that the resources that are already being spent on education in the wider community are used effectively to halve the gaps in literacy and numeracy in year 12 attainment between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Mr Brian Gleeson, the new Coordinator-General of Remote Indigenous Service Delivery, will start his work in July. He has the authority to cut through blockages and drive the implementation of COAG reforms in housing, infrastructure and employment in remote Indigenous communities.

COAG is determined to close the appalling life expectancy gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Today’s agreements are important milestones in meeting this challenge.

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