The prime minister’s annual Closing the Gap report on indigenous disadvantage is released in early February and outlines what progress the government has made in the previous year, as well as what needs to be done in the next year. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull delivered his first report to the House of Representatives yesterday, calling the progress “mixed”, and announcing that many of the key targets were “not on track”.

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd led the push to close the gap by 2030 and said in an interview with the ABC’s Kerry O’Brien how “determined” and “committed” he and the government were to the initiative:

“[It’s] a very big progressive program that we’re laying out for the nation. And guess what, I’m determined to do something about it. It’s measurable, it has got a timeline. And nothing like timelines to focus your mind in politics.”

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But how focused have our four different prime ministers and their governments really been over the last nine years? And if they really mean what they say, why do they all say the same thing?

Kevin Rudd (2007-2010)

2008 — “By fostering trust, apology can close gap

“The apology to indigenous Australians will make a real difference in closing the gulf in health and education, experts believe. But meeting the Government’s ambitious targets to beat indigenous disadvantage will require a huge expansion in resources …

“He [Dr Bill Glasson] welcomed the apology. ‘There’s a lot to be sorry about.'”

2010 — “Indigenous figures better but there’s a long way to go

“The yawning gap between black and white living standards persists, with the Prime Minister’s annual report derided as an Australian State of the Union address, celebrating process over progress …

“‘Generations of indigenous disadvantage cannot be turned around overnight,’ he said. ”We are seeing the beginnings of change.'”

Julia Gillard (2010-2013)

2011 — “Close the gap progress branded ‘underwhelming’

“The Federal Opposition’s spokesman for Indigenous Affairs says he is ‘underwhelmed’ by the Government’s update on its efforts in dealing with Indigenous disadvantage …

“In the annual Closing the Gap report, she [Julia Gillard] warned it would be extremely difficult to close the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians by the goal of 2031.

“Ms Gillard said no-one believed that target could be met sooner.”

Tony Abbott (2013-2015)

2015 — “End the wasting and blaming, just work to close the gap

“The seventh Closing the Gap Report was, to use the Prime Minister’s words, profoundly disappointing. So were the sixth, fifth, fourth, third, second and first reports.

“And if reports had been published every year for the four decades before that, they’d have shown the same pattern: where indigenous people are getting ahead, it’s at a marathon pace; where we’ve gone backwards it’s at a sprint.”

Malcolm Turnbull (2015-)

2016 — “Malcolm Turnbull hands down Closing the Gap report showing Indigenous life expectancy has not improved

“The annual report card on Indigenous disadvantage has been handed down, and the results, in the words of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, are mixed.

“There has been no progress in raising the life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the 2016 Closing the Gap report shows.

“‘The life expectancy gap is still around 10 years, an unacceptably wide gap, and this target is not on track,’ Mr Turnbull told Parliament on Wednesday.

“The Prime Minister said his government would redouble its efforts to engage with Indigenous Australians.”

2016 — “Closing the Gap progress frustrating

“With Aboriginal life expectancy still lagging the rest of the population by a decade, indigenous leaders are frustrated with the lack of improvement in their lot and ‘sick and tired’ of going to funerals.

“Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull presented the eighth Closing the Gap report to parliament on Wednesday, confirming only two of its seven health, education and employment targets remain on track.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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