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The Forum > Article Comments > The Gap we really need to close > Comments

The Gap we really need to close : Comments

By Brigid Trenerry, published 25/3/2010

Today marks National 'Close the Gap' day. So what does it really mean to 'Close the Gap'?

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To inspire people to realise that closing the gap is very possible, I must point out that more than 25,000 Indigenous people have graduated from universities across Australia, overwhelmingly since 1990, two-thirds women, mostly urban (yes, 75 % of the Indigenous population lives in urban areas, perhaps 45 % in metropolitan areas). That's one in every nine Indigenous adults, or one in seven of those who are literate (Dr Michael Dodson has pointed out that 30 % of the indigenous population is illiterate, a shocking statistic). With the demographic changes of the 1980s and 1990s, this total could reach 50,000 by the year 2020 (one in seven adults) and 100,000 by the year 2034 (one in six adults).

Currently, (i.e. in the last year of data, 2008) there are record commencements of Indigenous students at universities, and record enrolments: the equivalent of about 40 % of the 20-year-old age-group commenced study for the first time in 2008, with another 10 % or so at post-graduate level. Actual numbers were: 4321 commencements, and 9529 enrolments. This information can be easily found at DEEWR's website:

Demographically, Indigenous births increased from about 7000 annually in the early eighties to about 12,000 annually in the early nineties. This wave is just reaching tertiary age, and perhaps not coincidentally far more Indigenous students are finishing Year 12, so the numbers of Indigenousstudents at universities could easily rise by 6 % p.a. (and graduates, by 7 %) between now and 2020.

So it's not all doom and gloom :)

Joe Lane
Posted by Loudmouth, Thursday, 25 March 2010 10:12:55 AM
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Dear Brigid, I was very pleased to see your comments related to “what works” rather than “one size fits all”. The latter in my view is about what I refer to as the “indigenous industry” pushing solutions.

Loudmouth, you have earned enormous respect from me in recent similar threads, where, in my view, you have dealt brilliantly with some I refer to as members of the “indigenous industry”.

I have always thought it is vital to align the “ability” to take advantage of opportunities, with the opportunities themselves. In your view, is what Brigid refers to as “what works” an example of this? Are the very positive examples you provide, products of this process at work and if so, how might we as communities of common interest, take advantage of more of “what works”?

Posted by spindoc, Thursday, 25 March 2010 10:40:14 AM
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spindoc hear, hear, completely agree with you.

The bullies, and their intolerance, from the AI should not be tolerated.
Posted by Amicus, Thursday, 25 March 2010 10:45:55 AM
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Thank you, Spindoc and Amicus, the feeling's mutual.

'What works' - well, clearly tertiary education is working and I suppose it could be called an Indigenous-led initiative, i.e. by the students themselves, they are heroes. I can't say as much for Indigenous academics who seem to run as far and as fast as they can from lowly Indigenous under-grads, in their pursuit of higher rewards like four international conferences a year and professorships.

Why has tertiary education worked so well ? Well, has it ? Adults make up about 2.2 % of the Australian adult population (and, taking Dr Dodson's point, about 1.8 % of the Australian adult literate population). In commencements and enrolments, if we take out overseas students, Indigenous students make up about 1.6 % of all commencements, and about 1.3 % of all enrolments. But you won't hear this from the Indigenous Higher Education Advisory Council (IHEAC) in its pursuit of a Learned Academy for the academic elite, so not all Indigenous-led initiatives are working, I guess. The history of the IHEAC is not all that positive, so far, but we live in hope.

Two-thirds of Indigenous students and graduates are women. Currently, Indigenous women are commencing tertiary study at a better rate than NON-Indigenous Australian men.

Indigenous commencements are currently 90 % at degree-level and post-graduate level. Whereas numbers stagnated between 1996 and 2005, paradoxically as sub-degree enrolments have fallem, higher-level enrolments have risen. And whereas some 30 % of Indigenous students were enrolled in Indigenous-focussed courses in the mid-nineties, today the rate has fallen well below 10 %.

Of the 25,000 graduates at the end of last year, more than three thousand were at post-graduate level. In 2007-2008, an average of around four Indigenous people graduated each day. In fact, since 1990, they have averaged about three a day. Three a day for nearly twenty years. Charlie Perkins would be cheering them on. So three cheers for 'Indigenous-led initiatives' like students' decisions to enrol and graduate at universities in standard awards. Bloody heroes !
Posted by Loudmouth, Thursday, 25 March 2010 11:17:54 AM
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I'm not sure what 'cultural safety' means, but I totally support Salman Rushdie's comment that the right to free speech is nothing if it does not include the right to say and write things which are offensive to at least somebody - the right of free speech would be meaningless otherwise.

All human beings are entitled to equal respect, by virtue of being human, and therefore they are equally entitled to hold opinions, this is also an equal right, if you like. But just as anybody can slag my opinions (that's their right, I'm a big boy), it follows that I and everybody else has the right to hold up for scrutiny and criticise other points of view, opinions, perspectives, 'knowledges', beliefs, biases, crackpot ideas (God knows there are enough of those around) and notions of reality - in this case, without necessarily being accused of being racist or sexist or whatever.

Of course, this right does not extend to blatantly racist or sexist remarks, or to speech or writing which incites abuse or contempt or violence against anybody. So this rules out ad hominems :)

So what is 'cultural safety' in this context ? Just as Indigenous people and others have the right (see above) to criticise non-Indigenous society, history, culture, attitudes, beliefs, etc., so does everybody have the right to criticise Indigenous society, culture, beliefs, 'knowledge', etc., if only to draw attention to the need for research into what is taken for granted, and is usually never criticised. A clear example would be domestic violence - is it happening and debilitating communities or not, and if so, is it a hangover from traditional society, or is it something provoked by the evils of colonialism, or a mixture of both ?

I fervently hope that 'cultural safety' will not be used to stifle legitimate - LEGITIMATE - criticism of social and cultural practices, Indigenous AND non-Indigenous. We're all in this together, forever, so we have to resolve issues together, without rancour, abuse or false accusations.

Joe Lane
Posted by Loudmouth, Thursday, 25 March 2010 11:38:20 AM
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Hi Joe, many thanks for the follow up. There is much in Brigid’s article and your comments that have the potential increase the understanding of the Australian public and consequently develop the “will” and the “policies” to “close the gap”. Most of us will never have the knowledge to get our heads round many of these issues however, I’m trying to understand. Unfortunately for me, I come from a corporate background, my thinking is somewhat mechanical.

I would like to ask some questions of both you and Brigid if you have the time and the patience.

Observation: When I follow indigenous issues there are two threads. One thread is indigenous people, groups or communities with a view of what is needed. I also observe a wide range of “interested parties” who seek to promote their views. The latter seem to have more influence than the former, why is that?

My corporate starting point is that there must be a “voice” and “empowerment”. By that I mean there should be a mechanism whereby the most “granular” level (individual/family) of input is needed, this is then represented (by appointees) to the group level and then to the collective level (however this is structured). The appointees are coached and mentored with the skills (not opinions) to represent those views on every related topic and distil them into meaningful needs and actions. My observation is that the lack of this process creates a vacuum that is filled by external views; this diminishes the “authority” of indigenous views and cannot be good?

There are always factors that are “enablers” and “inhibitors”. You have indicted that the progress in tertiary education is an example of “what works well”, then a “permissive environment” has indeed been created. It matters not, in my view, if not all indigenous-led initiatives work, that should never be an expectation. What does matter is that problems have been examined and potential solutions considered “by and for” a community.

A permissive environment for education is one thing, how might this be translated into “ownership” of such as health, housing, employment and social/cultural issues?
Posted by spindoc, Thursday, 25 March 2010 2:49:57 PM
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