Bonnie Malkin, Telegraph (London), August 8, 2011
Australia spends an average of AU$3.5bn (£2.1bn) each year on policies intended to improve indigenous health, education, housing and welfare, but was getting “dismal” results, the review concluded.
It found “a huge gap between policy intent and policy execution”, which meant that for many of the country’s impoverished Aborigines, opportunities had not improved in four decades. The main reasons for the lack of results were too much red tape and too many confusing and complex policies with unclear objectives.
Australia’s 460,000 Aborigines make up about two per cent of the population.
They suffer higher rates of unemployment, substance abuse and domestic violence than other Australians and have an average life expectancy of 17 years less than the rest of the country.
Despite the glaring problems faced by indigenous Australians, policies devised by successive governments to build better housing, improve infrastructure and boost community safety have had little success.
The report, which was commissioned when Kevin Rudd was prime minister, took into account the progress of the government’s Northern Territory emergency intervention programme, brought in by John Howard in 2007 amid great controversy.
Under the plan, thousands of troops and police were sent into Outback Aboriginal communities to stamp out child abuse, alcoholism and domestic violence fuelled by “rivers of grog”. The policy is still in effect in several communities.
But the review found that “past approaches to remedying indigenous disadvantage have clearly failed and new approaches are needed for the future”.
It went on: “policy outcomes are disappointing at best and appalling at worst”.
The review, which had been kept secret by the government since it was completed, was obtained by the Seven television network after a freedom of information request.
Dr Neil Johnston, who compiled the review, wrote that the country’s approach to indigenous policy was “largely a story of good intentions, flawed policies, unrealistic assumptions, poor implementation, unintended consequences and dashed hopes.”
He recommended ceasing or restructuring a total of 25 programmes.
Jenny Macklin, indigenous affairs minister, said that the report had praised the government’s push to close the gap in education, employment and health between white and black Australia.
“Before the significant reform and investment agenda put in place by the government, services and infrastructure for indigenous Australians had faced decades of underinvestment and neglect,” she said.