Earlier this week, the Federal Government launched the annual Closing the Gap report. As seems to now be the story every year, there are a few things to celebrate (such as the decline in infant mortality) but much more that frustrates.
In early childhood education (ECE), targets have not been met. A new target of 95% of Indigenous children enrolled in ECE in 2025 has been set. With collaboration with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and communities, and sensible policies from Governments, this target could be met well before a decade passes.
With the current reform package before the Senate, there is no chance of this target being achieved. Which explains why they’ve put it off for a decade.
On Wednesday the 2016 Closing the Gap report set out the new goal of getting 95% of all Indigenous four-year-olds, not just those in remote communities, enrolled in preschool by 2025.
But the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) says the user-pays funding model proposed under the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Jobs for Families Child Care Package) Bill 2015 would threaten the viability of Aboriginal-run child and family service centres, halve the number of subsidised childcare hours available to low-income families that don’t meet a new “activity test” requirement, and further disadvantage Aboriginal children.
SNAICC deputy chief executive officer, Emma Sydenham, said the decision to scrap the Budget Based Fund, a top-up for those services that couldn’t cover their costs with fees or individual child subsidies, 80% of which were Indigenous, may force centres to close.
“Their focus is only on the needs of particularly vulnerable children and families in their communities,” Sydenham told Guardian Australia. “Their focus is not on how to meet the bureaucratic needs of these policies.”
There is a particularly kind of madness or cruelty (or both) in speaking the easy words of healing, consultation and Closing the Gap while putting forward policies that will make those things impossible.
This isn’t just about closing an inequitable gap in outcomes become Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. It’s actually about improving lives and opportunities.
If the Government believes that slashing access to one of the most proven ways of addressing inequity – early childhood education – is the best way to meet this target, I dread to think what they have planned to address all the others.