Latest report on Indigenous disadvantage mirrors ACOSS findings

The peak national community services body, ACOSS, says the latest report on Indigenous disadvantage mirrors its own findings showing that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are grossly overrepresented in the numbers turning to the community sector for help and being turned away.

The latest trend data assembled in a report titled Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage; Key Indicators 2011 released today shows improvement in only 13 of the 45 indicators monitored by the government – including in employment, educational attainment and home ownership. For 10 there has been no real improvement, while for another seven, including social indicators such as criminal justice, outcomes have actually deteriorated.

As chairman Gary Banks says in the forward of the report, “Nine years after this series was commissioned, there is still a considerable way to go if we are to fulfil COAG’s commitment to close the gap in Indigenous disadvantage.”

“Our own latest snapshot of the number of people accessing community services shows that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people accounted for 16% of all clients, which is more than six times their actual representation in the Australian population,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

“The Australian Community Sector Survey of 745 community organisations found a 34% increase in the number of people turned away from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander support services. This represented a total of 20,516 people turned away or 56 people a day. And it was despite the fact that groups provided 22% more services for people of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background in the same period.

“This increase was most pronounced in Indigenous support services (84%), alcohol & other drugs support (44%), domestic violence & sexual assault (28%), housing & homelessness (19%), employment/training (19%), and youth services (19%). Two-thirds (66%) of organisations said there was a high or medium level of unmet need for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander support services.

“Clearly this paints a bleak picture that as a society we are simply not doing enough. The Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report released today shows things have gone backwards in important areas like imprisonment rates, child abuse and chronic disease. Sadly the indigenous imprisonment rate for men rose 35 per cent in the decade to 2010; the rate for women jumped 59 per cent. And last year, the Aboriginal imprisonment rate was 14 times that of other Australians.

“This is simply unacceptable. We must do better. ACOSS does not believe that many aspects of the current Northern Territory Emergency Response is the way to achieve better outcomes for the lives of Indigenous Australians. In particular we consider the policy of compulsory income quarantining to be wasteful, costing about $4,400 per person to administer and does little to reduce child abuse, its stated original aim.

“The Federal Government is rolling out compulsory income management to five other areas around the country from July 2012. ACOSS believes that instead they should sit down and talk with communities about local social problems and work with them on mutually agreed solutions, including voluntary income management where the community believes this would help.

“The current top down approach of policy formulation does not work. This is highlighted in today’s Productivity Commission report which stresses that programs that include, involve, and better still are developed by local communities have a better chance of succeeding.

“Recently ACOSS supported calls by the national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services and Aboriginal Peak Organisations of the Northern Territory for an immediate overhaul of the Commonwealth Government’s intervention in Indigenous communities. ACOSS strongly supports a range of recommendations made by these representative groups, including:

* Replacing the current income management system with a voluntary system of trigger-based and case-by-case income management.
* Empowering and resourcing prescribed communities to drive solutions to alcohol misuse that are appropriate to the needs of individual communities.
* Delivering a non-discriminatory approach to law enforcement.
* Immediately cancelling the compulsory five-year leases acquired over Aboriginal land
* Commissioning independent research which considers qualitative and quantitative data in relation to each of the NTER measures, and to make this research freely available to the public.

“ACOSS remains deeply concerned by the Commonwealth move to extend this unproven scheme Australia-wide. It is a costly mistake that should not be repeated by extending the compulsory scheme to other communities.

“Now is the time to listen and try and get this policy right if we are to build on the continuing determination of community leaders to develop solutions that will work and reverse the worsening situation in these critical areas,” Dr Goldie said.

About the Australian Community Sector Survey
The Australian Community Sector Survey 2011 (ACSS) presents the findings of ACOSS’ annual survey of community services across Australia. The survey was conducted throughout November-December 2010 and covers the period from 1 July 2009 – 30 June 2010. A total of 745 agencies completed the survey, responding on issues relating to service provision, income and expenditure, operational, policy, and workforce issues for the community services sector. The ACSS is the only annual national survey collecting data about the non-government, non-profit community services and welfare sector. This sector is a major provider of the community services that most of us rely on at some point in our lives, but which are particularly important to people on low incomes.

Community sector unable to keep up with demand for services: New ACOSS Report
2011 Australian Community Sector Survey Released 15 August 2011

ACOSS on compulsory income management
Invest in case management for long-term unemployed, not ‘wasteful’ income quarantining: ACOSS – 10 March 2011
Peak community body supports calls for overhaul of NT intervention – 17 November 2010

Also see ACOSS Policy Analysis
Compulsory Income Management : A flawed answer to a complex issue – June 2010

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155