Closing the Gap: The need to act

There are just over half a million Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia today, comprising 2.5 per cent of the Australian population.

Although many Indigenous Australians have a good standard of living, too many experience unacceptable levels of disadvantage in living standards, life expectancy, education, health and employment. Current data shows a significant gap in these critical areas between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous population.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates for 2009 show life expectancy for Indigenous Australians to be lower than the non-Indigenous population by approximately 11.5 years for males and 9.7 years for females.

In the period 2002-2006 Indigenous children under five died at around three times the rate of non-Indigenous children (305.2 compared with 102.4 deaths per 100,000). Approximately 83 per cent of Indigenous deaths below age five occurred in the first year of life, and of these nearly half occurred within the first month.

Indigenous children are less likely to participate in early childhood education. Without preschool learning opportunities, Indigenous students are likely to be behind from their first year of formal schooling.

While most Indigenous students in metropolitan and regional areas meet the minimum reading standards, the proportion achieving at least the minimum standard of literacy and numeracy skills decreases as the level of remoteness increases.

Australians who do not complete Year 12 are less likely to have the same opportunities as those who do. In 2006 Year 12 completions for Indigenous Australians were 45.3 per cent, compared to 86.3 per cent for other Australians.

Indigenous Australian also experience much higher levels of unemployment than non-Indigenous Australians. At the time of the 2006 Census, around 48 per cent of the Indigenous workforce-aged population was in employment. This compares to 72 per cent for other Australians – a gap of 24 percentage points.

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