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Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Australia is falling short in its progress towards almost all its targets for overcoming Indigenous disadvantage, the 2017 Closing the Gap report released by Malcolm Turnbull shows.

“Successes are being achieved, however progress overall nationally is too slow,” the report says.

It presents a mixed picture. While there are some more encouraging longer term trends, the only target that is “on track” to be achieved is the improvement in Indigenous attainment of Year 12 education.

Speaking to the House of Representatives, Turnbull said there must be a rigorous evaluation of programs to determine what was working and what wasn’t.

The government will expand the Productivity Commission to include a new Indigenous Commissioner to lead the commission’s work of policy evaluation. It will also invest A$50 million towards research into policy and its implementation.

Here are the specific targets and the state of progress:

  • Halve the gap in child mortality by 2018. The 2015 Indigenous child mortality rate is just outside the range for the target, although over the longer term (1998 to 2015) the Indigenous child mortality rates declined by one-third.
  • Close the gap in life expectancy by 2031. This is also falling short, though between 1998 and 2015 Indigenous mortality rate declined by 15%.
  • Have 95% of Indigenous four-year-olds enrolled in early education by 2025. In 2015, 87% were enrolled, compared with 98% of non-Indigenous children.
  • Close the gap in school attendance by the end of 2018. In 2016, the attendance rate for Indigenous students nationally was 83.4%, compared with 93.1% for non-Indigenous students.
  • Halve the gap in reading, writing and numeracy by 2018. Across the eight areas (reading and numeracy for years 3, 5, 7 and 9) the proportion of Indigenous students achieving national minimum standards in NAPLAN is on track in only one area (Year 9 numeracy).
  • Halve the gap for year 12 or equivalent attainment rates by 2020. Nationally the proportion of Indigenous 20-to-24-year-olds who had achieved Year 12 or equivalent increased from 45.4% in 2008 to 61.5% in 2014-15, while the rates for non-Indigenous students didn’t change much, thus meaning the target is on track.
  • Halve the gap in employment outcomes by 2018. There has been an increase in the Indigenous employment rate since 1994, but a decline since 2008. In 2014-15 the Indigenous employment rate was 48.4%, compared with 72.6% for non-Indigenous Australians.

Turnbull said that if people had a university degree, there was no employment gap between Indigenous and other Australians, which was “a reminder of the central importance of education”.

He said that “if we look at the long-term intergenerational trends, we see that Indigenous life expectancy is increasing, babies are being born healthier, more people are studying, and gaining post-school qualifications, and those adults are participating in work.

“These are achievements that families, elders, communities can be proud of.

“But incarceration rates and rates of child protection are too high”, with 63% of Indigenous people incarcerated last year being in prison for violent offences.

Turnbull recommitted to seeking to change the constitution to recognise the First Australians in it.

In his reply speech Bill Shorten said a justice target should be included in the Closing the Gap targets.

He also said the Commonwealth should look at following the lead of some states towards providing reparations for the stolen generations.

“I applaud the state governments of New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania already taking steps towards providing reparations to families torn apart by the discrimination of those times. Decency demands that we now have a conversation at the Commonwealth level about the need for the Commonwealth to follow the lead on reparations. This is the right thing to do. It’s at the heart of reconciliation, telling the truth, saying sorry, and making good.”

Shorten said that “the First Australians must have first say in the decisions that shape their lives”.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Photo By: Nick-D (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Mark Beeson from the University of Western Australia writing for The Conversation, gives us his opinion on Tony Abbott's decision to join China’s proposed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Mark Beeson, University of Western Australia

Even for a government that has recently made an artform of policy backflips, the Abbott government’s belated, but seemingly inevitable decision to join China’s proposed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) represents a manoeuvre of Olympian proportions.

While most of the attention has understandably been on the very public divisions within cabinet and between Australia and the US, there is arguably a more enduring lesson to be learnt about influence and institutional development.

One of the reasons that the Americans have been so concerned about the AIIB is that they – rightly – fear that it will dilute their own influence and that of extant regional institutions, such as the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Japan has been the principal actor in the ADB, but Japan is also a close – some would say highly dependent – ally of the US, and therefore poses less of a threat to America’s regional influence.

China is a very different proposition. While Japan may not have been any greater admirer of the Washington consensus than China is, Japan could generally be relied upon to at least look as if it did. China has no such inhibitions or filial loyalties.

Although China’s own developmental model has yet to be definitively articulated by its ruling elite, we have a pretty good idea what it looks like in practice. China’s hands-on approach to investment in Africa provides an insight into what large-scale infrastructure investment might look like closer to home.

Two points are important to consider in this regard. First, that China is going its own way and actually following a Japanese-style tradition of neo-mercantilism is more surprising than it might seem – at least as far as many observers in the West are concerned. True, China is adopting a well-established East Asian, state-led template, but many thought things would turn out rather differently.

The great hope and expectation among many Western governments was that simply by participating in the international institutions the US had helped establish and subsequently dominated, Chinese policymakers would be “socialised” into appropriate behaviour. In short, Chinese elites would become more like “us”.

While there is no doubt that this has undoubtedly happened to some extent – China is an increasingly effective player in many international institutions – the question is how much its elites have taken on the norms, ideas and goals of their counterparts in places like the US and Australia. Do they still have a very different idea about how institutions should operate and how they might be utilised to pursue national rather than collective goals?

This leads to a second consideration. Is China attempting to use the AIIB to quite literally cement its place at the centre of regional production networks that give material expression to its growing regional importance and influence? The reality is that China is already central to the so-called “factory Asia” of trans-regional production structures that have been established across north and southeast Asia.

As The Economist recently pointed out:

China produces about 80% of the world’s air-conditioners, 70% of its mobile phones and 60% of its shoes. The white heat of China’s ascent has forged supply chains that reach deep into South-East Asia. This “Factory Asia” now makes almost half the world’s goods.

China’s planned investment in badly needed regional transportation infrastructure will entrench its economic dominance and importance. There are few countries in East Asia that don’t have China as their number one trade partner. China-centric transportation links and the reconstitution of the old Silk Road will only reinforce this economic leverage and make disagreeing with China increasingly difficult and costly.

Are the US and Australia right to be concerned about the geopolitical consequences of all this? Possibly so. But what, exactly, does an alternative strategy look like? And what would its consequences actually be? The US – much less Australia – can’t stop China playing a prominent role in the region of which it is a part. It would be counter-productive to try to do so.

One of the reasons that China is trying to set up its own institutions and agreements is because it is either locked out of some – like the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership – or underrepresented given its weight in the international economy. The US’s continuing veto power in the IMF is perhaps the most glaring example of the latter possibility.

Barring some – not inconceivable – economic crisis, the region will have to get used to becoming ever more dependent on China’s growing economic power. This is not necessarily bad news. It’s not China’s fault that we squandered the windfall provided by the resource boom.

Even more pointedly, for regional countries desperate for infrastructure investment China potentially offers vital assistance without the ideological, reformist baggage associated with the Washington consensus.

It could prove an irresistible combination and one that may help to enhance China’s influence in the region at the expense of America’s – despite continuing concerns about China’s geopolitical ambitions. How times change.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.