This evening, Gary Banks, chairman of the Productivity Commission, will be delivering a speech entitled ‘Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage in Australia’ to the Second OECD World Forum on “Statistics, Knowledge and Policy”, in Istanbul, Turkey.

Gary Banks is also chairman of the inter-governmental Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision in Australia, which is responsible for the Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage Report.

Here are some timely extracts:

It remains apparent that least progress — and even some deterioration — has occurred in those areas that are least directly amenable to government policy measures. For example, domestic violence and child abuse are difficult areas for policy intervention wherever they occur. Remoteness and the greater relative scale of these issues in indigenous communities are additional barriers for policy intervention. This poses a major challenge for public policy simply because the answers do not depend on government alone. Corresponding efforts within indigenous communities are also necessary …

… Fortunately, there is more going on in indigenous communities than is being (or can be) captured by statistics. Our consultations across the country have brought to light many positive and successful initiatives at a local or community level. Because they are localised in their effects, they tend to be swamped in the aggregate statistics (even at the state or wider regional level). We therefore have included in the report mini-case studies of ‘things that work’ in each of the target areas, to assist the dissemination of information about what is working in some communities. There is growing demand for such information — in April this year COAG agreed to establish a jointly funded clearing house for evidence about best practice and success factors in overcoming -indigenous disadvantage.

We found clusters of ‘things that work’ in the areas of ‘Early childhood
development and growth’ — reflecting government emphasis on intervening early in the life course. Many programs focused on providing culturally relevant maternal and child health services. As noted, infant mortality rates are improving, as are vaccination rates and children’s hospitalisations for preventable diseases.

Several innovations have targeted school attendance. ‘Things that work’ include programs linking school attendance to participation in sports activities, ‘open education’ programs to support secondary school students in remote areas, and several schemes providing scholarships for indigenous students from regional and remote areas to attend private boarding schools. Indigenous cultural studies have been introduced into some schools’ curricula, with indigenous people involved in their development and delivery. This has improved indigenous students’ self-esteem and achievement at those schools, and provides non-indigenous students with the opportunity to learn more about indigenous people and their perspectives.

Many ‘things that work’ have also emerged in the area of ‘Economic participation and development’, including assisting indigenous people into jobs. Importantly, many of these have strong private sector involvement, particularly from large mining companies operating in remote areas of Australia.

Our analysis of the ‘things that work’, together with consultations with governments and indigenous people, identified the following factors that many of the success stories have had in common:

• Cooperative approaches between indigenous people and government (and the private sector).
• Community involvement in program design and decision-making — a ‘bottom-up’ rather than ‘top-down’ approach.
• Good governance.
• On-going government support (human as well as financial). 

 Read the full speech here.

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