Closing the gap: PM focuses on indigenous jobs, schooling

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has told parliament that his personal mission is to help Australians open their hearts on indigenous policy.

In delivering his first annual Closing the Gap statement as prime minister on Wednesday, Mr Abbott recalled the watershed moment for him on indigenous affairs was Paul Keating’s landmark Redfern speech in 1992.

Back then he was a staffer for opposition leader John Hewson.

‘‘It has become a personal mission to help my fellow Australians open their hearts as much as to change their minds on Aboriginal policy,’’ he told the House of Representatives.

‘‘We are a great country ... but we will never be all that we should be until we do better in this.’’

The annual Closing the Gap report has highlighted poor progress on improving indigenous employment and student results.

Mr Abbott intends to make the next year all about getting kids to school and people into jobs.He announced that a new target would be established: ending the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous school attendance within five years.

‘‘No-one ever received a good education by not going to school,’’ he said.‘‘It’s hard to find work without a basic education and it’s hard to live well without a job.’’

The report shows there has been no progress on the target to halve the gap between the number of indigenous and non-indigenous people with jobs within a decade.

It also shows that while the country is on track to halve the gap in year 12 completion rates by 2020, progress is lagging on improving literacy and numeracy for indigenous school students.

There has been a small improvement in life expectancy but progress needs to accelerate.

Progress is on track to meet the target to halve the gap in death rates for indigenous children under five within a decade.


Prime Minister Tony Abbott delivers his Closing the Gap speech. Picture: ANDREW MEARES

Prime Minister Tony Abbott delivers his Closing the Gap speech. Picture: ANDREW MEARES