“Closing the Gap was well meaning and policy makers were genuine in wanting to achieve equality for our peoples.
However, we also said from the outset that the problem was that only governments had been involved in negotiations of the agreement and only the views of governments about what had to be done and how to achieve it were included
Our people weren’t asked or given any role in Closing the Gap.
Now it looks like governments and both major parties have finally realised that it was a mistake to exclude us and that this is an important reason why the policy failed
More than anything else we were determined that in the next phase, we must be in charge of our own development
Now the election is over, we will make sure we stay at the decision making table. It’s a big shift, but it’s critical for our people.”
Central Land Council policy manager Josie Douglas said while this is good news “it wouldn’t have happened except for the hard work of nearly 40 members of national and state/territory Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak bodies, including the Central and Northern land councils and the NT’s Aboriginal Medical Services Association.
“ This historic achievement of a hard-fought partnership between peak Aboriginal organisations and governments on Closing the Gap should be celebrated.
From this day forward, expert Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices in health, education and community services will be working as equal partners with COAG in crafting the best solutions to achieve better life outcomes within our communities.
The health disparities and widening gaps between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and other Australians are unacceptable and as leaders in our fields, we are ready to do the hard work to reverse these trends.”
The journey of Aboriginal representatives to the table where the policy decisions are made has been long and difficult.
Pat Turner, CEO of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) said the joint council meeting was “a culmination of many years of negotiations and hard work.
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– Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap 2019-2029
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Ten years after Australian governments launched Closing the Gap it looks like Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples finally have a real say about the policy.
The policy was meant to improve their lives by getting Australian governments to work together, but has mostly failed because it was designed without Aboriginal representatives in the room.
The first joint Closing the Gap council meeting between the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) and a coalition of national Aboriginal peak bodies in late March in Brisbane promises to turn a decade of failure into success.
The joint council has 12 representatives elected by the coalition of peaks, a minister nominated by the Commonwealth and each state and territory government, plus one representative from the Australian Government Association.
The council was set up under a historic partnership agreement under which the peak bodies will, for the first time, have an equal say in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of a ‘refreshed’ Closing the Gap policy.
In 2008, the COAG signed up to an agreement which for the first time had national targets and committed state and federal governments to reducing the gap in life expectancy, infant mortality, access to early childhood education, educational achievement and better employment outcomes.
This raised some hopes but, for the last five years, each time a Prime Minister reported to the federal parliament on the progress of Closing the Gap they had to admit that most of the targets were not on track to be achieved.
That does not mean that there had been no progress at all, but Aboriginal Territorians know that their lives are not much better than they were 10 years ago, especially when it comes to housing and jobs.
Early last year, public servants invited these organisations to workshops to ask them what they thought about Closing the Gap.
Like most others, CLC representatives left the workshops feeling that the governments had already made up their minds and were going to repeat the mistake they made over a decade ago and exclude them from their proposed ‘refresh’ of the policy.
Last October, the NACCHO asked the CLC and other peak bodies across Australia for help to try and stop the governments from deciding on a new Closing the Gap policy without Aboriginal representatives.
“We were up for it because we know how hard life is for our people and that we couldn’t afford governments to keep making decisions about us without us,” Ms Douglas said.
“We couldn’t afford the harm that means for our people and the waste – just look at the federal government’s punitive and failed work for the dole scheme.
“We wrote to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the state premiers and Chief Minister Michael Gunner, asking them not to agree to changes to the Closing the Gap policy without us,” she said.
The coalition of peaks asked to be signatories to a formal Closing the Gap partnership agreement on behalf of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
They met with Mr Morrison last December and he changed his mind.
“We didn’t expect that,” Ms Douglas said.
The partnership agreement on Closing the Gap they signed three months later came with a Commonwealth grant paying the costs of the coalition for being in the partnership.
In May this year, also for the first time, the coalition met to work out what should be in a new Closing the Gap policy.