SYDNEY - Australia's failure to end the entrenched disadvantage of Aboriginal people was described by Prime Minister Tony Abbott Wednesday as "profoundly disappointing" with key targets missed and employment levels actually worsening.
Abbott - who has prioritised improving the lives of indigenous Australians - said progress had been made in some health and education areas, but most goals were not being met and more work needed to be done for the country's most impoverished community.
Opposition Labor Party leader Bill Shorten, meanwhile, said the report presented "two nations, two Australias", and the country's first Aboriginal woman elected to the national parliament said the country should be "ashamed".
"This seventh 'Closing The Gap' report is in many respects profoundly disappointing," Abbott told parliament, referring to the yearly report on the divide between Aboriginal and other Australians.
"Despite the concerted efforts of successive governments since the first report, we are not on track to achieve most of the targets." The report aims to improve the lives of Australia's Aborigines, many of which live in remote and poor areas and have significantly lower life expectancies than other Australians, by setting targets on health, education and mortality.
Abbott said there had been improvements, with mortality rates lower, child and maternal health improving and heart disease rates down for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
Gaps in high school completion and mortality rates also appear within reach.
But he said other targets, including closing the gap in life expectancy within a generation and halving the gap in reading and numeracy in children, either had not been met or were not on track to be met.
Decline in employment The report also noted there had been a decline in employment since 2008.
"This is not because of any lack of good will or effort by successive governments," Abbott said.
"We are trying to change entrenched and multigenerational disadvantage. This won't happen overnight. And it may not ever happen, unless we continue to place high demands on ourselves of what we must achieve together." Abbott, who last year spent almost a week running the government from a remote Aboriginal area in the nation's far north and will do the same this year, called on indigenous communities to help.
Aborigines, who number about 500,000 of a total population of 23 million, suffer disproportionate levels of disease, imprisonment and social problems as well as lower educational attainment, employment and life expectancy.
Labor leader Bill Shorten said the report presented "two nations, two Australias" - one in which people could look forward to a long life and others a harder, shorter one in which illiteracy, depression, addiction and suicide were common and jobs twice as hard to find.
Senator Nova Peris, the first Aboriginal woman elected to the national parliament, said the report showed neglect.
"There's not a lot to smile about on a day like today," she said.
"Australia is so rich in so many areas, but we've got a lot to be ashamed about in the treatment of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples."