February 16, 2012

Aboriginals of Australia: PM Prioritises Constitutional Recognition

Julia Gillard acknowledges the shrinking of some social gaps between aboriginals and non-aboriginals and pledged to commit $10 million AUD to building the consensus for change that could finally win constitutional recognition for aboriginal communities.

Below is an article by The Sydney Morning Herald:

The nation is making progress in reducing infant mortality and improving educational achievement for Aboriginal children, but must redouble efforts to close the gap in life expectancy between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, the Prime Minister told Parliament yesterday.

Delivering its annual report on progress on tackling indigenous disadvantage, Julia Gillard said the government was on track to meet its targets of halving the gap in mortality rates for children under 5 by 2018, and to provide access to early childhood education to all indigenous 4-year-olds in remote communities by next year.

Ms Gillard said good progress had been made in halving the gap in literacy and numeracy results by 2018. She said faster improvement would be needed to meet targets to halve the gap in year 12 attainment rates by 2020 and halve the gap in employment outcomes by 2018, but the targets could be reached.

Ms Gillard said the aim of closing the gap in life expectancy between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians by 2031 was the most challenging of the six targets, which the government committed to when then-prime minister Kevin Rudd delivered the national apology in 2008.

The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, welcomed the ''very encouraging statistics'' but suggested that other indicators, such as attendance rates for school and work programs, and injuries from family violence, be monitored to provide a clear picture of life in indigenous communities.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commissioner, Mick Gooda, said a target should be set on a measure relating to criminal justice. ''Youth incarceration is going through the roof in this country and if we don't do something about it we're going to lose another couple of generations,'' he said.

Ms Gillard announced $10 million in funding for a ''community conversation'' to build support for recognition of indigenous Australians in the constitution. ''We need more than the consent of the governed to an agreement between parliamentarians - we need a genuine community desire for change,'' she said.

Mr Abbott said he believed proposals for constitutional recognition, delivered by a panel of indigenous leaders, lawyers and politicians to the Prime Minister last month, should be treated as ''the first word, not the last word, on what should be put to the Australian people''.

He pledged to work constructively to develop a proposal that would be unifying.

Jody Broun, the co-chair of the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples, which supports the panel's recommendations, said she was heartened by Mr Abbott's comments.

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