SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Wednesday said that the government was failing to meet a number of goals aimed at improving the lot of its embattled aboriginal population as he released its tenth annual report card on indigenous issues.
Just two of seven targets in the 2016 Closing the Gap report, which outlines the government’s record in meeting its own targets on issues such as infant mortality, life expectancy and economic performance, are on track to be met.
The report found that the imprisonment rate for indigenous adults in Australia rose by a staggering 77 percent between 2000 and 2015. Aborigines comprise just three percent of the population but make up 27 percent of those in prison.
A target to close a 10 year gap in life expectancy between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians by 2031 is not on track and the aboriginal unemployment rate will not be halved by 2018 as previously pledged.
Turnbull called on the country to do better and improve the lives of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.
“A person’s right to shape their own identity and for that identity to be respected is central to the well-being of all people,” Turnbull told Parliament.
“And yet, for decades, aboriginality and skin color has been used to control the lives of indigenous people and diminish their value in society. This must be no longer.”
Australia rarely talks publicly about the condition of its roughly 700,000 indigenous citizens, who track near the bottom of its 23 million citizens in almost every economic and social indicator, or about society’s attitude toward them.
Last year months of relentless booing of aboriginal football great and anti-racism campaigner Adam Goodes ignited an uncomfortable public debate about race and how Australia treats its indigenous citizens.
A referendum to recognize Aborigines in the constitution has been on hold for years.
The Closing the Gap report struck a somber tone as it outlined a litany of grim statistics highlighting the difficulties facing these communities.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women are more likely to be hospitalized for family related assault than non-indigenous Australians, it said, 28 times more likely for men and 34 times more likely for women.
“While long-term improvements are evident, it is important to note that overall progress has been varied and that meeting many of the Closing the Gap targets remains a significant challenge,” it said.
Reporting by Matt Siegel; Editing by Michael Perry