ABORIGINALS – IS CLOSING THE GAP REALISTIC? May 2020
Back in 2007 the governments of Australia, federal, state and territory decided they would ‘close the gap’ in disparities between
Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians especially in seven types of social outcomes including: child mortality, early childhood education, school attendance, literacy and numeracy, completion of year 12 schooling, employment and life expectancy. Targets
were set and an annual report produced to assess progress.
The report for 2020 shows that while progress has been made in some areas, outcomes for only two areas, namely early childhood
education and year 12 attainment, were on track.
In the case of child mortality (i.e. those who die in the first four years of life) the position actually worsened. In 2018 the death
rate among non-Indigenous was 67 per 100,000, the figure for Indigenous children was more than twice this at 141 per 100,000.
With early childhood education the target for 2025 is expected
to reach 95% and as the figure reached 86.4% in 2018 this target is expected to be reached. For non-Indigenous there was actually a fall.
School attendance rates for Indigenous children
in years 1 to 10 was only 82% and did not improve between 2014 and 2019. For non-Indigenous the rate was 92%.
For those aged 20 to 24 the target for Indigenous youth reaching year 12
rose from 45% in 2008 to 66% in 2018-2019. The proportion of non-Indigenous reaching year 12 actually fell by 5%.
Employment rates for Indigenous has not risen markedly, rising only
0.9% to 49% between 2008 and 2018 while at the same time employment for the non-Indigenous fell 0.4% to 75%.
Life expectancy for the Indigenous has reached an average of 71.6 years for
males and 75.6 years for females over the years 2015 to 2017. For non-Indigenous life expectancy for males was 8.6 years and for females 7.8 years longer. While life expectancy for Indigenous did increase, that for non-Indigenous increased by at least as much,
hence the gap remains. (1)
The report does not make a distinction between full blood and mixed blood Aborigines but it appears that the problems are worse in the remote regions where
it could be expected that there are a bigger proportion of full bloods. For instance in 2015-2017 the life expectancy for Indigenous males in remote and very remote areas was estimated to be 6.2 years lower than for Indigenous males living in major cities.
For Indigenous females the equivalent figure is 6.9 years. Life expectancy among non-Indigenous varies little between various states and territories but there is a noticeable difference between the Indigenous in say New South Wales and the Northern Territory
where most Aborigines are full bloods. (2)
Similarly the gap in child mortality rates between Indigenous and non-Indigenous in NSW is much smaller than the gap in the Northern Territory.
In fact the Indigenous rate in the Territory is more than three times that of the non-Indigenous. (3)
What could be relevant to the difficulty in closing the gap is the higher fertility
rate among Indigenous and the young age at which Indigenous women give birth.
In 2008 the total fertility rate (TFR) for Australian women was 2.023 and this fell to 1.740 in 2018. Over
the same years the TFR for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women actually rose slightly from 2.368 to 2.371. It was a little bit higher in the northern Territory at 2.379. With fertility rates however what really stands out is the wide gap between young
Indigenous and non-Indigenous. Among teenagers (15-19 years) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have five times the fertility rate for Australian women and among those aged 20-24 years the rate is three times. From about the age of 30 the situation changes
and Indigenous fertility rates fall below that of other Australian women. (4)
Another controversial matter that never gets a mention is the IQ gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous
Australians. It’s been estimated that the IQ of full blood Australian Aborigines is 62 although for mixed race Aborigines it is higher. (5) These figures are based on research done years ago and it’s possible that more updated research would give
a different picture. Nevertheless high rates of imprisonment, unemployment, teenage pregnancies and other social problems have been associated with low IQ. (6) On these social variables Indigenous do worse than other Australians.
To worsen matters, children’s mental abilities and success at school are affected by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) which comes about due to pregnant women drinking alcohol. Studies of Indigenous Australians show that about 12 in a hundred children
have the disorder. This is about 12 times the world average. (7)
Infant mortality rates (IMR) refer to the number of live born infants who die in their first year of life. In 2018 the
IMR for non-Indigenous Australians was 3.0 and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders it was 5.8 per 1,000 live births. The figure for Aboriginal and Torres Strait infants was based on figures from five state/territory IMRs and if more states were included
the figure might be a little lower. (8) The rate for Indigenous infants in the Northern Territory is much higher at 13 per 1,000 which has hardly improved since 2008 when it was 13.5. (9) More evidence that full blood Aborigines suffer more “disadvantage”
than mixed race.
A lot of this disadvantage would seem to stem from the problem of too many low IQ Aborigines having too many children at too young an age. It could be a case of breeding
inter-generational social problems.
How to stop or mitigate the problem? In a democratic country it is not possible to stop people having children any more than it is possible to force
people to have children. The social welfare and tax system could be tweaked a bit but so far this has not had much effect. The Gillard government substantially increased the level at which income tax starts, from $6,001 to $18,201, although this could hardly
be expected to affect the decisions of teenagers who have never had a job. (10) They also replaced the Baby Bonus with a much less generous New Born Allowance. The amount given to mothers of children through the so-called Family Tax Benefit A and B is pretty
generous and would act as an incentive for young women who have never had a job and are unlikely to get a job, at least a well-paid one, to have children. Added to this is that until the child reaches six or eight years of age the mother gets Parenting Payment
which is more generous than the Job Seeker (i.e. unemployment) allowance. (11) The situation is hopelessly dysgenic and no government in this country is likely to make it less dysgenic let alone eugenic.
As for closing the gap the future is not promising. Most Indigenous are of mixed race and practice high levels of miscegenation – in other words marry white people. (12) The result should be brighter children and this should mean fewer problems such
as crime and unemployment. In more remote areas the higher fertility rates among full bloods could mean that these social problems do not improve. We could quite likely see a situation where the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous shrinks but the gap
between full blood indigenous and non-Indigenous (and mixed race Indigenous) actually worsens.
Whilst many problems are genetic there has been evidence that good early childhood programs
(like the Head Start program used in the United States) does improve childhood IQ, although the improvements tend to wash out in adolescence. (13) Nevertheless it’s in the early years of school that children should be learning the basic literacy and
numeracy skills necessary in both life and further education so it would seem a good idea to provide such programs. It’s unfortunate that of all states and territories it’s only the Northern Territory that did not reach target in early childhood
(1) Australian Government, “Closing the Gap Report 2020”, https://ctgreport,niaa.gov.au
(12) Toni O’Loughlin, “Mixed Marriage Rates Rise in Australia”,
The Guardian, 6 April 2009
(13) Herrnstein & Murray, Op. cit. pp. 403-404
Infant Mortality and Fertility: Statistics from the ABS.Stat Beta page show that infant mortality rate (IMR) for
Indigenous Australians has tended to fall in most, but not all years since 2008 when it was 8.2 deaths per 1,000 live births. By 2018 it was 5.8 deaths. For the Northern Territory the decline has been less consistent, falling from 13.5 deaths in 2008 to 11.4
in 2010, before rising again, reaching 13.9 in 2016 and then falling to 13 deaths in 2018. The fertility rate for Indigenous women in the Northern Territory was 2.502 in 2007 but tended to fall reaching 1.99 in 2016 and then rising to 2.379. (1)
infant mortality rate for the Northern Territory is bad, but not as bad as that for black African nations. The CIA World Factbook gives the IMR for Botswana as 26.8, South Africa as 27.8 and the Democratic Republic of Congo as 64.5. For Papua New Guinea it
is 33.2 per 1,000 live births. (2)
Welfare for Single Mothers: Australia’s Centrelink gives a Job Seeker allowance for single unemployed adults of $550 a fortnight but single mothers can get the Parenting Payment of $790 a fortnight
until the child turns eight. Just for having a baby they can get the Newborn Lump Sum Payment of $560 plus Supplementary Payment of $1,679.86 spread over 13 weeks. They can also get up to $186 Family Tax Benefit A for each child up to age 12 and $242 a fortnight
for children 13 to 15, and in some cases up to $158.34 a fortnight Family Tax Benefit B. They can also get Rental Assistance up to $164.08 or $185.36 a fortnight depending on how many children they have. These are all means tested hence those who have been
out working and paying the most income tax get the least, if anything. (3)