Stalled Progress Closing the Gap Prompts Refresh
14 February 2019 at 5:33 pm
Indigenous groups are pushing for Australia’s Closing the Gap targets to be revised in partnership with the Indigenous community after the latest progress report revealed only two of seven targets were on track.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivered the 11th annual Closing the Gap report in Parliament on Thursday, pledging to work in partnership with states and territories and Indigenous Australians to put clear accountability at the heart of a new approach.
He acknowledged the “top-down approach” taken in the past could not achieve the change required to fix Indigenous disadvantage.
“Governments fail when accountabilities are unclear. When investment is poorly targeted, when systems aren’t integrated. And when we don’t learn from evidence,” Morrison said.
— Australian House of Representatives (@AboutTheHouse) February 14, 2019
The report found a lack of progress in life expectancy, child mortality, employment, reading and numeracy, and school attendance targets.
There were two goals on track – one fewer than last year – around early education and year 12 attainment.
At a Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting in December last year, the government committed to a formal partnership with Indigenous representatives and on the Closing the Gap strategy.
Indigenous groups want this agreement signed by the end of February, making the Closing the Gap strategy subject to regular independent Indigenous-led reviews.
Cheryl Axleby, the CEO of SA Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement, told Pro Bono News Indigenous groups would keep the government to this February deadline.
“This is important so we can then move forward and start setting up the partnership arrangement,” Axleby said.
“The good thing about this is that we’ll be at the table and will be able to look at the refreshed targets and set them from an Aboriginal community context.”
“If the targets are actually developed with Aboriginal people – and we know the issues that are happening within our communities – we can better target money to go towards creating more successful outcomes.”
Morrison’s speech on Thursday also included plans to wipe the HECS debts of teachers who work in remote Indigenous communities, which is expected to benefit more than 3,000 teachers and almost 300 schools.
“Education is the key to skills. It is the key to jobs. It is the key to building enterprises – and giving young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians the opportunity to create their futures,” Morrison said.
But Axleby questioned whether this was something that would actually help Close the Gap.
“When we’re looking at Closing the Gap, education is obviously part of that, but this is a government responsibility and it shouldn’t be coming out of money that could be going into communities to increase and build community capacity,” she said.
“We’d like to see more investment in Indigenous communities so young people have the chance to become educated and become teachers, and then they can come back into communities and be the teachers.”
Axleby is also co-chair of Indigenous group Change the Record, which has called for justice to be included as a Closing the Gap target.
“For far too long, we’ve not been able to get a commitment from the states and territories as a collective in regards to addressing the appalling incarceration rates of our people,” Axleby said.
“So what we’ve been saying is justice targets needs to be something that all governments need to start committing to and we need Commonwealth leadership in that space.”
We look forward to re-working the targets based on First Peoples’ priorities. pic.twitter.com/3usNJOMLdY
— Change the Record (@Change_Record) February 14, 2019
Fellow Change the Record co-chair Damian Griffis said the revised COAG targets announced in December did not go far enough to combat the ongoing impacts of colonisation.
“We are disappointed that justice and housing targets are being pushed onto the states, family violence and child removal targets are considered ‘optional’, and disability was forgotten altogether,” Griffis said.
“These are critical issues for our community that require meaningful leadership from the Commonwealth to close the gap.”
Labor leader Bill Shorten said he welcomed the government’s plan to refresh the Closing the Gap approach, but admitted he was frustrated by the lack of progress.
.@billshortenmp says he feels 'frustrated and disappointed' at the 11th annual 'Closing the Gap' address that 'after a decade of well-intentioned and heartfelt words from five Prime Ministers', not enough has changed.
— Sky News Australia (@SkyNewsAust) February 14, 2019
“After a decade of good intentions, tens of thousands of well-meaning, well-crafted and well-intentioned words, heartfelt words, from five prime ministers, we assemble here and we see that not enough has changed,” Shorten said.
“Simply put, if we seek to see real change in the lives of First Nations people, then we need to change. Change our approach, change our policies.
“And above all, change the way that we make decisions. We need to let First Nations have real control in how decisions are made.”
Labor has echoed Indigenous groups’ calls for additional targets around justice and the removal of Aboriginal children.
Shorten also repeated his election pledge for a referendum on the constitutional changes from the Uluru Statement in Labor’s first term, and compensation for the Stolen Generation through a National Healing Fund.