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New National Closing the Gap Agreement comes under fire over justice targets


31 July 2020 at 5:32 pm
Luke Michael
Advocates say these targets “will deliver anything but justice" to Indigenous people


Luke Michael | 31 July 2020 at 5:32 pm


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New National Closing the Gap Agreement comes under fire over justice targets
31 July 2020 at 5:32 pm

Advocates say these targets “will deliver anything but justice” to Indigenous people

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has unveiled a new National Agreement on Closing the Gap promising to work in equal partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but some advocates have slammed the government for failing to set ambitious national justice targets. 

The new agreement was announced on Thursday, completely resetting the original 2008 targets which saw little progress year on year.

Morrison said this week marked a new chapter in efforts to close the gap, with “mutual trust, shared responsibility, dignity and respect” now at the forefront.

“The gaps we are now seeking to close are the gaps that have now been defined by the representatives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This is as it should be. This creates a shared commitment and a shared responsibility,” Morrison said.

“This is the first time a National Agreement designed to improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has been negotiated directly with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives.

“By focusing our efforts on these more specific, practical and shared objectives we can expect to make much greater progress.”

Many of the new targets aim for completion by 2031, including closing the gap in life expectancy, increasing the proportion of Indigenous people attaining year 12 or equivalent qualification to 96 per cent, and increasing the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth (15 to 24 years) who are in employment, education or training to 67 per cent.

The new targets also aim for a “significant and sustained reduction” towards zero in Indigenous suicide and violence and abuse against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children.

Pat Turner AM, who helped drive the refreshed approach as lead convenor of the Coalition of Peaks, said this was the first time Indigenous people will share decision-making with governments on Closing the Gap. 

“The National Agreement makes this a reality, not just for the Coalition of Peaks, but for all First Nations people that want to have a say on how things should be working in their communities,” Turner said.

“If the priority reforms are implemented in full by governments and through shared decision making with First Nations people, we should see changes over time to the lives and experiences of our people.”

Justice targets come under fire

While the new agreement has been broadly welcomed by Indigenous groups, some say they are extremely disappointed by the justice targets.

By 2031, the targets aim for the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults held in incarceration and the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people (10 to 17 years) in detention to reduce by at least 15 per cent.

Advocacy group Change the Record has slammed the targets for failing to aspire to ending the mass-incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within our lifetimes. 

Co-chair Cheryl Axleby said these “so-called justice targets will deliver anything but justice” to Indigenous people.

“For too long our people have been forced into the quicksand of the criminal legal system by discriminatory laws, discriminatory policing and systematic disadvantage and poverty,” Axleby said.

“Governments had an opportunity in the new Closing the Gap Agreement to give our young people a future. Instead they’ve chosen lazy politics over the lives and futures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”

Axleby also noted that these new targets came on the back of governments failing to commit to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 years old to at least 14 years old.

She said raising the age was a crucial step to keeping young Indigenous children in schools and out of detention.

“If governments were serious about ending the mass imprisonment of our people, then we would have justice targets that saw an end to the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by 2040 at the very latest,” she said.

“And attorneys-general would have agreed to the simple law change of raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 years old to 14.” 

The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS) was also critical of the justice targets.

The organisation has called for national justice targets of at least a 23 per cent (adults) and 28 per cent (youth) year-on-year reduction in incarceration rates so that parity can be reached within 10 years.

Co-chair Nerita Waight said Australia needed strong political commitments with sufficient public funding to match.

“We remain hopeful that the systemic and structural changes in the joined up policy approaches and priority reform areas in the new Closing the Gap Agreement will lead to real and long lasting change for our people,” Waight said.

“Nationally coordinated justice policy reforms across Australian governments are urgently needed to reduce over-incarceration.” 

The full national agreement can be seen here.


Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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