The ACT has topped the nation in a new social progress report mapping policy responses to the COVID-19 crisis but the territory's report card showed it needed improvements on the environment, inclusiveness, personal freedom and choice.
2020 was a year few expected: kicking off with devastating bushfires across much of the country before a global pandemic ravaged what normality was left. But amid all the bad events, reports have shown the ACT has fared relatively well in the face of adversity.
The latest Social Progress Index findings from not-for-profit research Centre for Social Impact serve to cement that further. According to the figures, the ACT was the highest performing region regarding social progress when mapped against its COVID-19 response.
The ACT recorded a 69.76 rating on the index, the country's highest, with New South Wales and Tasmania following behind at 58.15 and 57.3 respectively.
On the other end of the scale, the Northern Territory received a 28.02 rating, trailing far behind seventh position Western Australia at 50.28. The index noted the local government's response had focused efforts on boosting the economy but had lacked specific policy responses on nutrition, basic medical care and shelter for vulnerable portions of the territory's remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population.
The score is determined by three indicators - basic human needs, foundations of wellbeing and opportunity. Using the latest 2018 figures, it looks at each state and territory's policy and funding response to COVID-19 and measures how it will impact the indicators and the various components associated within each one.
Dr Megan Weier, who worked on the findings, said the ACT had introduced fewer COVID-19 response policies than some of the regions but had done well to ensure it wasn't just the economy being propped up.
Supporting basic education, additional health and mental health funding and not-for-profit and community Dr Weier said, was what stood out particularly when other governments focused more heavily on economic support packages.
"I think the fact the ACT has really kind of tried to take that broad approach, particularly around inclusiveness, is really important to help make sure that people are connected and don't get lost in the system," Dr Weier said.
"If you're starting from a good position, you're going to have fewer vulnerabilities that have to be addressed first - you can sort of just build on already existing strengths."
The ACT didn't get a perfect report card, however.
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Nine of the index's 12 indicators were marked as performing better than previous figures but environment, inclusiveness, personal freedom and choice were areas of concern.
"Inclusiveness is an interesting one because the indicators that were included for that were things like the gender pay gap, and also the ratio between men and women in terms of employment under utilisation," Dr Weier said.
Dr Weier also pointed to a person's satisfaction of their connection to community - something that has been harder to achieve with the introduced restrictions.
When it came to personal freedom and choice, Dr Weier said things like personal safety on public transport and disparity between the safety of Indigenous and non-Indigenous children in out-of-home care.
"It does suggest that the way that policies are being employed in the ACT at the moment aren't necessarily equitable in terms of Indigenous children, particularly, having the same kind of personal rights and freedom and choice that non-Indigenous children have when it comes to child safety," Dr Weier said.
The findings show that a single number doesn't tell the full story. With housing affordability and a demand for more social housing among a number of big issues for many in the ACT, Dr Weier said it was important to look at the equity of policy responses.
"At a higher level, it might seem that things are going okay or that people working in the public service or living in wealthy areas are doing quite well," Dr Weier said.
"But we also need to be considering how policies might be disproportionately impacting people who are already marginalised.
"I think paying attention to that equity in terms of how policies are received and how they play out it's really important when thinking of future interventions or policy responses to social problems."