“I cannot conceal that these literacy and numeracy results are a source of personal disappointment. Last year’s optimism gives way this year to a starker realism.”

So said Julia Gillard in Parliament this morning as she released the latest “closing the gap” report on indigenous disadvantage.

It’s sobering stuff. Reading levels of year 3 indigenous students decreased in 2012, after improving between 2008-2011. On some indicators, less than half of indigenous students are meeting minimum standards. On employment, indigenous Australians are falling further behind the non-indigenous population.

It’s not all bad news: the government is on track to meet one target this year for the first time (enrolment of four-year-olds in early childhood education). And mortality rates of young indigenous children are decreasing significantly.

Most of our body politic is entirely distracted by the froth and bubble of politicians who may have done the wrong thing, or said something stupid, or been nasty about a colleague — the tedious three-year fall-out of a hung Parliament.

But this report is news, and it is far more important than who stayed in Eddie Obeid’s ski lodge. Addressing Australia’s shameful indigenous disadvantage was always going to be difficult; we should be talking about how to get back on track.

Peter Fray

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