” The pandemic should not be used by governments as a reason to delay the new agreement on closing the gap targets, a coalition of more than 50 Aboriginal peak organisations has warned ahead of the next scheduled meeting in June.
The Coalition of Peaks said the “quick and decisive” efforts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health organisations has kept Covid-19 from devastating communities so far, and shows that strong partnerships with governments make a big difference to Aboriginal health and safety.
But the virus has exposed the inequality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people on many fronts, the lead convenor of the Coalition of Peaks, Pat Turner, said.
“Covid-19 is a pathogen, but it is also a diagnostic test being run on Australia – and the results are not good,” Turner said. “
Indigenous organisations say their success with Covid-19 shows strong partnerships with governments make a big difference
While Australians over 65 are considered at high risk of suffering the worst effects of Covid-19, in Aboriginal communities, where there is a higher chronic disease burden, anyone over 50 is considered vulnerable.
“Covid-19 doesn’t discriminate so the gap in potential outcomes is a result of the structural inequity that exists in Australia,” Turner said.
“It is not natural occurrence but the direct result of years of neglect, disinvestment and failed policies, developed without our input.”
In March last year, Australian governments signed a historic partnership agreement with the Coalition of Peaks on closing the gap. They have since developed four reform priorities that are yet to be formally adopted.
“This pandemic has shown just how important those reforms are,” Turner said.
The reforms are to have greater Aboriginal involvement in decision making and service delivery at a national, regional and local level. There is also a commitment to making sure government agencies and institutions undertake systemic and structural transformation, and strengthening community-controlled organisations to deliver the services Aboriginal people need.
Scott Morrison has already committed $1.5m for the fourth priority – a data project to support evidence-based policy and decision making by Indigenous communities.
“Our organisations and communities are best placed to respond to this crisis and yet are the same organisations and communities that have borne the brunt of repeated funding cuts and a rollercoaster of policy and administration changes,” she said.
Turner also said the absence of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander national body or voice to parliament, bringing its collective expertise to respond to Covid-19, was “stark” in its absence.
“People have labelled Covid-19 as some sort of great equaliser but, in reality, its impact is not shared equally,” she said.
“The truth is that there can be no equality until we work together to dismantle structural inequity. Collective will is the only real equaliser.”
” In March 2019, I entered into the Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap, a landmark agreement to work together to develop the new Closing the Gap framework
For the first time, we have constructed something that sits at the very centre of government and demonstrates a strong commitment to Indigenous Australians having a real say.
That’s what was missing from the original Closing the Gap framework.
As we turn the last page on that framework, we take the evidence of the last twelve years and provide the final results. These results are not what we had hoped for, and it’s important to acknowledge them.
But it’s also important to celebrate the stories and successes that lie beyond the targets. On almost every measure, there has been progress.
I look forward to honouring our commitment to partnership. I want to make sure Indigenous Australians are genuinely positioned to make informed choices, forge their own pathways and reach their goals.
I want to make sure all governments renew our efforts to help close the gap.
We can all play a part.
Together we can all improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this generation and the next. “
Selected extracts from Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s forword to the Closing the Gap report
“Never have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak bodies from across the country come together in this way, to bring their collective expertise, experiences, and deep understanding of the needs of our people to the task of closing the gap.
We have an unprecedented opportunity to change the lived experience of too many of our people who are doing it tough.
It is hard not to get overwhelmed by the lack of progress ( 2020 CTG Report ) , a widening gap in life expectancy, soaring rates of incarceration, with our people dying in custody
I’m hopeful the renewed policy will be a “circuit breaker”.
There is “goodwill” and “desire for change”, and the new Closing the Gap targets could be signed off by June.
We’re aiming for a maximum of 15 targets [and] all the targets should be national.
[There will be] new ones like justice, for example … and for the first time there will be actual Aboriginal involvement in designing this process.”
Ms Pat Turner AM, CEO of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation and co-chairing a project to refresh the Closing the Gap framework.
“This demonstrates the need to adopt a new approach to Closing the Gap.
Key to this is shared accountability and shared responsibility – governments, Indigenous Australians and their communities and organisations.”
Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt welcomed the gains in early childhood and school education, but acknowledged progress has been slow in other areas . See Part 3 below for the Ministers CTG Editorial
Part 1 :This year, the Closing the Gap report marks a new era. An era of partnership based on an historic agreement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Last year, I hoped this report would be on a new Closing the Gap framework.
But, this is not a process we should rush. Getting it right is worth the time it takes. So while we don’t yet have a new framework in place, a new process has begun. A process that is truthful, strengths-based, community-led, and that puts Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at the centre.
In March 2019, I entered into the Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap, a landmark agreement to work together to develop the new Closing the Gap framework.
It’s a commitment by the Commonwealth, all states and territories, the Australian Local Government Association and the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Organisations to work together in genuine partnership.
This is no small achievement. For the first time, we have constructed something that sits at the very centre of government and demonstrates a strong commitment to Indigenous Australians having a real say.
That’s what was missing from the original Closing the Gap framework.
As we turn the last page on that framework, we take the evidence of the last twelve years and provide the final results. These results are not what we had hoped for, and it’s important to acknowledge them. But it’s also important to celebrate the stories and successes that lie beyond the targets.
On almost every measure, there has been progress.
There have been heartening improvements in key areas of health and education. These are the things that create pathways to better futures.
It’s clear we have more to do, but we must do things differently. Without a true partnership
with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, we will hamper our own progress.
The new framework is based on true partnership, and on a commitment by all governments
to work together, and to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The new Joint Council on Closing the Gap is developing priorities, realistic targets and metrics that all governments and the Coalition of Peaks can commit to achieving. At the core of this new process is the expertise of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, guiding local action and local change.
Our refreshed Closing the Gap will focus on how we deliver services, as well as what is being delivered, and on solutions, not problems.
This means changing the way we work. It means expanding the opportunities for shared decision-making and making sure all mainstream agencies provide high quality programs and services. It means making sure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have better access to
high-quality services, including building community-controlled sectors, and ensuring we have the data needed for ongoing improvement. It means making sure we have the systems in place to share responsibility, and to measure our progress. Without this, we can have no meaningful action and no real progress.
For example, we are investing in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led data to support
decision-making at a local level. This will mean richer data to build programs that work for people in the place they live. It will also help to develop regional profiles to better understand how we are tracking towards Closing the Gap targets and other community priorities.
In making this commitment, together we have made a new path. Together we are setting out towards a goal we all share: that is, for every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child to grow up with at least the same opportunities in life as every other Australian.
I look forward to honouring our commitment to partnership. I want to make sure Indigenous Australians are genuinely positioned to make informed choices, forge their own pathways and reach their goals. I want to make sure all governments renew our efforts to help close the gap.
We can all play a part. Together we can all improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this generation and the next.
Part 2 : Key findings from the 12th Closing the Gap report
Target: Halve the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous children under five within a decade by 2018 – Not met.
In 2018, the Indigenous child mortality rate was 141 per 100,000 – twice the rate for non-Indigenous children (67 per 100,000). While the Indigenous child mortality rate has improved slightly, the rate for non-Indigenous children has improved at a faster rate.
Early Childhood Education
Target: 95 per cent of all Indigenous four-year-olds enrolled in early childhood education by 2025 – On track.
In 2018, 86.4 per cent of Indigenous four-year-olds were enrolled in early childhood education compared with 91.3 per cent of non-Indigenous children.
Target: Close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous school attendance within five years by 2018 – Not met.
Most Indigenous students attended school for an average of just over four days a week in 2019. Gaps in attendance start from the first year of schooling and widen into high school.
Literacy and Numeracy
Target: Halve the gap for Indigenous children in reading, writing and numeracy within a decade by 2018 – Not met but some improvements.
In 2018, about one in four Indigenous students in Years 5, 7 and 9, and one in five in Year 3 remained below national minimum standards in reading. Year 3 literacy rates are improving.
Year 12 Attainment
Target: Halve the gap for Indigenous Australians aged 20-24 in Year 12 attainment or equivalent attainment rates by 2020 – On track.
In 2018/19, 66 per cent of Indigenous Australians aged 20-24 years had attained Year 12 or equivalent. Over the decade, the proportion of Indigenous Australians aged 20-24 years attaining Year 12 or equivalent increased by 21 percentage points.
Target: Halve the gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians within a decade by 2018 – Not met (stable).
In 2018, the Indigenous employment rate was 49 per cent compared with 75 per cent for non-Indigenous Australians.
Target: Close the life expectancy gap within a generation by 2031 – Not on track.
Life expectancy is 71.6 years for Indigenous males (8.6 years less than non-Indigenous males) and 75.6 years for Indigenous females (7.8 years less than non-Indigenous females). While there have been improvements in Indigenous mortality rates from heart disease, stroke and hypertension, cancer rates are increasing.
Part 3 : A good education can lay solid foundation blocks for a successful life.
Through these foundations we have the ability to close the gap for indigenous Australians across a range of areas – getting it right at an early age can mean getting it right for life.
I am heartened by gains, including in early childhood and education and its long-term impact.
As a government, we do however, acknowledge that progress has been slow in other areas.
The past ten years have not delivered the results they should have – and there’s no shying away from the responsibility we share to get the next ten right, and the ten after that.
This demonstrates the need to adopt a new approach to Closing the Gap.
So, how do we take our successes in the education field and replicate them across other markers and indicators?
It’s not a simple answer but key to this is shared accountability and shared responsibility – between all governments and indigenous Australian communities and organisations.
We are committed working in partnership with indigenous Australians to optimise outcomes over the life course
And we have issued a call to all governments to continue to work together on national priorities for collective action and supporting local communities to set their own priorities and tailor services to their unique context.
For the first time in the Closing the Gap process, indigenous expertise is at the centre of decision making – this represents an opportunity to set, implement and monitor closing the Gap along with indigenous Australians.
2020 marks the next stage in an unprecedented partnership between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak organisations, the Australian government, states and territories.
The Morrison government, through the leadership of the Prime Minister, is bringing together COAG and the Coalition of Peaks to deliver the new Closing the Gap National Agreement.
Our Closing the Gap Refresh will deliver shared responsibility and accountability.
Indigenous Australians at local, regional and national engagements are embedding knowledge and leadership, co-designing systems, policy and operational frameworks, and working with government to action change.
We are taking the time to ensure indigenous Australians and traditional owners are empowered and in a genuine position to make informed decisions.
In this new way of working, we share priorities – with indigenous Australians and with state and territory governments – in the fields of early childhood, education, employment and business opportunity, community safety, suicide prevention and health, as well as supporting local people to drive local solutions.
We must also continue to encourage conversations across the nation – so we become more comfortable with each other, our shared past, present and future. This has often led to local action to realise positive change.
This is why as the Minister for indigenous Australians, I have been tasked by the Prime Minister to develop a new whole of government indigenous early childhood strategy.
This will be a new way of working together to achieve our shared goal – working with experts, families, frontline service providers and communities.
Longer term we know that education has a direct impact on the ability for indigenous Australians to obtain employment.
The employment gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians narrows as education levels increase.
Since 2014 through the indigenous Advancement Strategy we have provided significant investments to indigenous youth and education initiatives throughout Australia.
Currently some 30,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth are being supported on their education journey through mentoring, scholarships and leadership programs like AIME, Yalari, Clontarf and the GO Foundation.
With this support, we will see this cohort of youth come through completing year 12 and progressing through further education, training and employment.
There was effectively no gap in the 2016 employment gap between indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians with a Bachelor degree or above (around 83 per cent employed for both)
Completion of Year 12 also considerably boosts employment outcomes for younger indigenous Australians compared with early school leavers.
The employment rate in 2016 for young indigenous Australians aged 18-29 who had completed Year 12 was between 1.5 and 3 times the rate for those without Year 12 qualification, depending on gender and remoteness locations.
Young, employed indigenous Australians with Year 12 qualifications were more likely than early school leavers to be employed full time, and be in a skilled occupation.
In the last 10 years, the number of indigenous Australians accessing higher education as more than doubled and currently almost 20,000 indigenous Australians are attending university.
This is worth celebrating. Every improved outcome and achievement needs to be celebrated and used to build momentum for greater improvements.
Governments, indigenous Australians and communities have a shared commitment to closing the gap; change will happen and we must not be afraid to learn from each other.
Indigenous Australians are the key agents of change. Governments need to draw on their insights, knowledge and lived experiences to deliver on Closing the Gap, for current and future generations.
We owe it to future Australians, both indigenous and non-Indigenous to build a better future.
We owe it to all Australians that they feel as though they have a future ahead of them that will deliver worth and value for work.
We will continue to work every day, to get more children to school, to support pathways into long-term employment, to address and reduce suicides right across the nation and to empower and give a voice to those who need it most.
For the first time government is walking this journey hand-in-hand with indigenous Australians.
I am optimistic that we can Close the Gap, not overnight, but overtime, in partnership and through genuine engagement with all indigenous Australians.
Ken Wyatt is the Minister for indigenous Australians
“ It’s the first time ever that COAG has Aboriginal people as equal partners at the table negotiating how we work over the next decade to Close the Gap for our people
We’re at a crossroads, and we’ve decided to take up our rightful role.
I want our people living in safe, secure housing. I want them to have access to community-controlled health services no matter where they live. I want our people to have the best access to all education services, and I want our people to generally have the same opportunities as other Australians,” Ms Turner said.
I want our people to have full-time jobs. We’ve got to scrap the negative issues that we have deal with every day. We have to take a strengths-based approach and we have to make sure that we are getting our people out of poverty.”
National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) CEO Pat Turner.
“If we’re stepping up to this level than we have to take on the responsibility and be prepared to work extensively to achieve the outcomes we’re all aspiring to, and if there are changes along the way, then so be it. The buck will stop with us.”
Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory chief executive, John Paterson, said the agreement also means Indigenous groups are just as accountable as governments.
“ Labor welcomes the Closing the Gap Partnership Agreement announced by the Coalition Government and the Coalition of Peaks, made up of some 40 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander national and state /territory peaks and other organisations across Australia.
A formal agreement with First Nations organisations and providers to work together to Close the Gap is long overdue.
This announcement comes after years of delay, dysfunction and poor communication due to the failure in leadership of this government. It has been two years since the government announced a ‘refresh’ of the Close the Gap”
For Labor Party response /support see Full Press Release attached
Representatives of around 40 Indigenous peak bodies, making up a ‘coalition of peaks’ will co-chair a new joint council alongside ministers. Picture Brisbane Yesterday
The Council of Australian Governments has unveiled an historic partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, as they look to refresh the Closing the Gap strategy and turn around a decade of disappointing results.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups have sat down with state, territory and Commonwealth ministers, for the first time, to work on Closing the Gap.
Under a ten-year agreement, Indigenous peak bodies will share ownership and accountability to deliver real, substantive change for Indigenous Australians.
The partnership marks an historic turning point for the Closing the Gap strategy, which for the past eleven years has seen dismal results in delivering better outcomes for Indigenous Australians.
Last year, just two of the seven targets were on track to being met.
Representatives of around 40 Indigenous peak bodies, making up a ‘coalition of peaks’ will co-chair a new joint council alongside ministers.
Ms Turner and Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion co-convened the first meeting in Brisbane on Wednesday.
The Morrison government is committing $4.6million over three years to fund the coalition’s secretariat work, and additional funding is expected in next Tuesday’s budget for the Closing the Gap refresh framework.
But Ms Turner warns the new coalition is not a substitute for an ‘Indigenous voice to the parliament.’
“Our focus is on the Close the Gap. We in no way are the ‘voice’ – that is a process that still has to be settled by the incoming government at the federal level,” she said.
The framework will undergo Indigenous-led evaluations every three years.
Details of new targets are expected to be revealed in mid-2019 but Indigenous groups have already flagged key areas of concern.
“We’ve got too many people in juvenile justice, we’ve got too many children being removed from their families, we’ve got so much family violence, drug and alcohol abuse.
And all those issues, this Closing the Gap can do something about,” said Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation chief executive, Muriel Bamblett.
Ms Bamblett told NITV she hopes the new agreement will bring about real outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people on the ground.
“We’re tired of going to the table and saying this is wrong … We know we’ve got the answers.”
” I endorsed all six ( Indigenous Advisory Council Members ) because of their qualities as leaders” — but stresses the need to see leadership as a devolved, organic process, with regular input from community leaders being just as crucial as formal meetings at the top.
I always find it frustrating that there is an assumption that the national (Indigenous) leaders that the media often refers to are the only leaders with an authoritative voice on any issue at all, when every time I walk into a community I see natural leaders who are doing things, who are guiding people,”
“They’re working to make a difference on the ground but they’re never recognised, nor are they ever involved in providing input into what’s needed in the way of reforms and change.
There’s some continuity of thinking in terms of what the previous body did .But in her own right I have always been impressed with Dr Ngiare Brown deep thinking and the way in which she’ll reflect on what’s being said, and then she will go to a very salient point that sometimes others have missed, or that contributes to a solution or a way forward.”
The first task for Malcolm Turnbull’s band of hand-picked Indigenous advisers will be to wind back the damage caused by Tony Abbott’s “bromance” with his former chief counsellor, Warren Mundine.
The new six-person indigenous advisory council’s first meeting, shortly after the Prime Minister delivered a disappointing ninth Closing the Gap statement in parliament this week, was cordial, constructive and largely ego-free, according to some who were there.
But mending community disaffection over the performance of the previous 12-member body, announced in chaotic circumstances at the Garma festival in northeast Arnhem Land in late 2013 and then presiding over the widely panned introduction of Abbott’s signature $4.8 billion Indigenous Advancement Strategy the next year, will be a priority.
“Out on the ground, with our mob, the council has in the past been regarded as operating by itself,” new member Roy Ah-See tells Inquirer. “We need to build some credibility with people on the ground, with our people. We need to re-engage.”
Ah-See knows a bit about engagement. He chairs the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, the nation’s largest such member-based organisation, and while professing surprise at his selection on the new panel (“it was a whirlwind, totally unexpected”) concedes that serving three elected terms on his 20,000-member body “has given me some good foundation skills”.
Neither he, nor anyone involved in putting together the streamlined advisory body, thinks Abbott or Mundine were anything but well-intentioned in how they went about pursuing indigenous affairs policy reform. The pair’s passion for indigenous economic advancement, rather than seeing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians as irrevocably mired in disadvantage, is acknowledged and Mundine says he’s determined to continue in a private capacity the push away from this “old-world thinking” approach.
But it’s not just community disquiet at the nadir that had been reached — report after report in the past 12 months alone — from the Productivity Commission, the National Audit Office, a Senate committee — has picked holes in the government’s indigenous affairs approach.
Educationalist Chris Sarra, another of the new body’s six members and the man credited with coining the phrase now so beloved of the Prime Minister when it comes to indigenous affairs — “do things with us, not to us” — is adamant that change is at hand.
“I feel like there’s something different in the air,” he says. “It’s a new day dawning — there’s an enthusiasm for change that I wasn’t feeling before.”
Sarra, a forceful presence who has no hesitation in pushing an agenda, nonetheless sees himself as a facilitator, not a dominator. He believes Turnbull is serious when he declares that policy must come from the grassroots, not from Canberra, and wants the council to be more of a clearinghouse than a central committee.
“I’m not a gatekeeper,” he says. “I’m interested in making things work. I’ll say to this person, you need to go talk to Congress” — the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, the elected peak body stripped of funding last year and disparaged by Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion at the time as being unrepresentative — “or this person, you need to talk over here.
“The last thing we want is another bromance,” he says. “I like Malcolm Turnbull a lot, but I see no value for Australia in there being another relationship like that.”
Even Ken Wyatt, Australia’s first indigenous minister with responsibility in the Turnbull government for indigenous health, concedes the Abbott council was perceived as too autocratic and that policy suffered as a result.
“There were some excellent people around that table,” he says. “But you can’t keep taking advice from the same group of people. And the Aboriginal community viewed it that it was from one or two (people).”
Wyatt is also a keen supporter of a re-energised Congress, saying that co-chairs Jackie Huggins and Rod Little “have provided good advice to the Prime Minister and to myself, and I will include them in certain aspects of the work I do”.
Huggins and Little say that, rather than the despondency they felt a year ago when Abbott refused to even meet them, they now see progress.
Addressing a Congress-led coalition of around 50 groups known as the Redfern Alliance on Tuesday, Turnbull declared a need for “more community-driven local decision-making models”. Advisory council member Andrea Mason notes to Inquirer the “vast amount of corporate memory, not just historical figures” in the various groups making up that very alliance, and the clear value of that to government.
The Prime Minister also made a point this week of praising the Murdi Paaki Regional Assembly, a policymaking body stretching over 16 northwestern NSW communities, and the eight-member Empowered Communities model of local governance, whose several architects include Mason and Cape York leader Noel Pearson.
And he announced the appointment of University of Melbourne pro vice-chancellor Ian Anderson to run indigenous affairs, making Anderson Australia’s most senior indigenous bureaucrat. He will conduct a root-and-branch review both of policy generally and of the Closing the Gap project specifically.
There will also for the first time be an indigenous productivity commissioner’s role, with a wide-ranging brief and a $50 million budget.
So the signs are positive, and in Sarra’s view it’s down to Turnbull simply being “smart enough to know there’s a need for something different. He can see the great value for all Australians to see blackfellas not just going from surviving to complying, but from surviving to thriving”.
Sarra, Ah-See and Alice Springs-based Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunutjatjara Women’s Council chief executive Mason are joined as newcomers on the council by Derby-based Winun Ngari Aboriginal Corp CEO Susan Murphy. Yolgnu leader and artist Djambawa Marawili, from East Arnhem Land, and Wollongong University health academic Ngiare Brown carry over from the Abbott body, a link Wyatt — himself a career health bureaucrat — sees as invaluable.
Anthropologist and geographer Marcia Langton is deeply weary of regularly being given the “indigenous leader” tag, telling Inquirer: “I’m a public intellectual; I’ve been voted onto public intellectual lists over the years at one number or another, not that one takes any notice of this, but it just means I’m a thinker”.
In her powerful essay of almost a decade ago, Trapped in the Aboriginal Reality Show, Langton warned of the folly of seeing “First Peoples … as virtual beings without power or efficacy”, where “political characters played by ‘Aboriginal leaders’ pull the levers that draw settler Australians to them in a co-dependent relationship. The rhetoric of reconciliation is a powerful drawcard — like the bearded woman at the old sideshow. It is a seductive, pornographic idea, designed for punters accustomed to viewing Aborigines as freaks.”
It’s an analysis that stands, though the current mood, and Turnbull’s gathering around him of experts with a directive to tell him who and what he should be listening to rather than what he wants to hear, tend to confirm the perception of change that Sarra, Huggins, Little and many others detect. “The previous prime minister put a lot of faith in one or two people (but) in the Aboriginal community, we don’t have one leader who speaks on every issue,” Reconciliation Australia chief executive Justin Mohamed says.
“We’ve got many nations within this country, many different dialogues, traditional languages, cultures and laws that we all operate in.
“So if someone’s a strong representative, say, of the Kimberley, that doesn’t mean they represent a person from Perth. If you get to understand that, then you’ll say it’s not one voice I need to hear, I need to hear a collective of people.”
And yet the elephant in the room is that Turnbull’s panel remains, as was Abbott’s, hand-picked.
“That original Abbott group had absolutely no legitimacy, but I’m still lukewarm on a hand-picked group of people — not because of the individuals, some of whom I consider friends of the highest order,” indigenous Labor MP Linda Burney says.
“But it must not be like the last council, which was moribund, without transparency, and without accountability back to the community.”
Labor senators Malarndirri McCarthy and Patrick Dodson are equally sceptical of a group that has been appointed from on high, with McCarthy concerned it has no clear brief. “Until there’s clarity as to its purpose it will not be taken seriously,” she says.
Dodson told caucus this week that the “top-down centralised process leaves our indigenous nations on the margins as policy fringe-dwellers … Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are cynical, frustrated and angry”.
“We need to be free from constantly needing you to understand us. We need to be free from explaining ourselves to you. We need to be free to do the things that are important for us,” he told his colleagues, even as they were celebrating the fact that for the first time, all three flags — Australian blue ensign, Torres Strait Islands and Aboriginal — were flanked in the room and will be at all future caucus meetings.
There is another solution to all this, of course, and it’s being discussed at the grassroots level as part of efforts by the bipartisan-appointed Referendum Council to devise a proposal for indigenous constitutional recognition to take to the parliament by the middle of the year.
Pearson’s proposal of a parliamentary body representing indigenous interests is under debate at community consultations around the country, leading to a major gathering at Uluru at the end of May, marking the 50th anniversary of the referendum that gave the commonwealth powers in indigenous affairs.
The latest of these gatherings is in the western NSW regional city of Dubbo this weekend; last week’s meeting in Broome resolved there should be “an indigenous voice to parliament to give First Nations peoples a greater say in decision-making on matters that affect them and their rights” and that this body “must not be appointed or hand-picked by government”.
Article 2 : Gap crisis: give indigenous services the respect they deserve
This week’s poor Closing the Gap result in child mortality has been met with despair by early childhood experts around Australia.
It is not just because of the tragedy of the deaths of 124 indigenous children younger than five in 2015, an increase of six deaths on 2014.
Their despair lies in the failure to fully acknowledge the gains made, often by Aboriginal-run organisations, in the wellbeing of indigenous children after nearly a decade of Closing the Gap reports.
Sandra Eades, head of the Aboriginal Health Program for the Baker Institute in Melbourne, laments that any gap exists between indigenous and non-indigenous child deaths. “But people in health who understand the data know that progress is being made,” she insists. “We’ve got to report the improving trends as well, and we need to revisit that in next year’s report.”
Malcolm Turnbull told parliament this week that just one of seven Closing the Gap targets to reduce indigenous disadvantage is on track, with child mortality rates joining this year’s list of failed targets.
The 124 deaths was “four deaths outside the range of the target”, the report noted, adding that it was influenced by a change in Queensland’s data reporting of deaths identified as indigenous. The Northern Territory, with 333 per 1000 deaths, has the highest rate, with experts saying the cause lies only partly in the remote places where children live.
Former Australian of the Year Fiona Stanley, who led Australia’s biggest study of indigenous families at Perth’s Telethon Child Health Research Institute, says Professor Eades is right to look to the improvements. “The good news is we’ve halved the indigenous mortality rate from 1998 to 2015, from 13.5 per thousand live births to 6.3 per 1000 live births in 2015” she says. “That’s fantastic.”
And the Gap report notes that fewer babies are being born with low birthweight. “Why is that happening?’’ Professor Stanley asked. “Because maternal health is better, there’s better antenatal care, women are stopping smoking and fetal alcohol exposures are going down. I’m seeing all this when I visit the Eastern Goldfields, Pilbara and Kimberley, and Aboriginal mums should be given a big pat on the back for this.”
Professor Stanley’s message to the federal government is loud and clear, however — it must support the maternal health and child welfare centres, many Aboriginal-controlled, that helped achieve those gains.
She says the Closing the Gap report is accurate when it calls for “better integration of services across health, childcare, early childhood education and school”.
“Many of us are deeply concerned about the future of early childhood and parental support centres around Australia,” she says. “Under changes to federal government funding, they could close, or be underfunded so that parents won’t be able to afford to use them.”
At St Mary’s Primary School in Broome, more than a dozen parents arrive each day to spend time with their children in an early childhood program called Our Mob as First Educators. Aboriginal child health and trauma specialist at Notre Dame University’s Broome campus Juli Coffin praises the program for “investing in parents, supporting them in positive relationships between each other and with the kids.”
Mother Natalie Graham says she had bad post-natal depression: “Coming here is really helping to build a bond with my son.”
Dad Geoffrey Clark says he feels comfortable visiting, “and it’s fun interacting and learning”.
Professor Coffin says such culturally appropriate services build family strength in the face of the Kimberley’s high rates of child removal. In Western Australia, 53 per cent of all 4658 state wards are Aboriginal, despite comprising less than 7 per cent of the population. The crisis has forced Child Protection authorities to focus resources on vulnerable families in a bid to reduce child trauma and removal.
“Our kids are vitally important in our family structure, they are often the only beam of light, the reason for people to get up in the morning,” says Professor Coffin.
What of the grim statistics at the heart of the Closing the Gap report, those 124 children who failed to make it through infancy?
Professor Stanley says the Territory’s high mortality rate “could be related to high rates of preventable things like scabies and rheumatic heart disease, as well as isolation”.
Next year’s statistics are already being made. On Monday, a woman in an indigenous community near a regional WA town gave birth to twins. One died during labour. The attending doctor, who does not wish to be identified, says regular antenatal care in an Aboriginal-run maternal health centre might have saved the child.
Another statistic in next year’s Gap report will be Perth baby Sean. His family ticks many of the boxes that health professionals know are risk factors for infant death, including poverty and parents who grew up in state care and experienced jail time.
And homelessness. Last year, The Weekend Australian reported that the chubby-cheeked infant, who had a stoma bag and was awaiting a bowel operation, was homeless along with his four siblings. Sean’s parents were praised by the hospital for carrying his medical supplies around and keeping him clear of infection.
But it wasn’t easy — after an outbreak of violence at the house where they’d lived, the family had resorted to nights sleeping under a bridge in Perth’s outer suburbs.
Sean died, aged five months, shortly after the family moved into emergency housing provided by a youth service. The Weekend Australian can no longer identify the family because, after the father became seriously ill, the four surviving children were taken into Child Protection’s care.
Christine Jeffries-Stokes, a pediatrician in the Goldfields town of Kalgoorlie, says the Goldfields region has a much lower mortality rate than the Territory, but trauma and loss in many Kalgoorlie families means fewer relatives to support mothers and children or notice if something is not right, she says.
Dr Jeffries-Stokes says Kalgoorlie’s Ngunytju Tjitji Pirni maternal and infant health closed down last year, after the federal government reallocated funds to the Aboriginal Medical Service. “Yet it provided intimate, supportive care that women trusted; babies were weighed routinely and checked, women were trained as infant health workers and that benefited their own families. I’ve noticed my work is harder now keeping track of patients.
“The lessons we’ve learned are not reaching people, and great indigenous services are not getting the respect they deserve.”
“There have been some improvements to Indigenous child mortality with this target on track to be met by 2018. However, despite narrowing the gap in life expectancy, the rate of improvement is far too slow to close the gap. The situation is particularly bad for Indigenous people living in the Northern Territory, whose life expectancy is nearly 15 years shorter than non-Indigenous Australians
The Northern Territory intervention has failed to deliver substantial reform in any of the areas covered by the Close the Gap goals and has also failed to meet Australia’s international human rights obligations, an independent report has found.
Nearly a decade after the Northern Territory intervention, residents of Indigenous town camps in Alice Springs are fighting to regain control of their lives as they wrestle with longstanding social problems
Photo above: Aboriginal children playing at one of the town camps in Alice Springs when the intervention started in 2007. An independent report shows the strategy has failed to deliver substantial reform in any target area. Photograph: Anoek de Groot/AFP/Getty Images
The report, by the Castan Centre for Human Rights at Monash University, rated the intervention, which was rebadged in 2012 and now operates as the “stronger futures” policy, four out of 10 for its general human rights performance and failed it against seven other human rights measures, including the right to self-determination.
It also gave fail marks to every Close the Gap measure except education – which it scored at five out of 10 for improvements in primary school attendance – and urged the government to include incarceration rates as a new Close the Gap target, pointing to an “increasing and inordinate amount of Indigenous Australians being incarcerated”.
Malcolm Turnbull is set to deliver his first update on the Closing the Gap targets on Wednesday.
The national targets were set by the Council of Australian Governments in 2008, a year after the NT intervention began, and, according to the most recent update delivered by the then prime minister Tony Abbott in February 2015, most are not on track to be met.
The target of getting all Indigenous four-year-olds in remote communities into early childhood education was missed in 2013, with just 85% instead of the target of 95% enrolled.
The 2015 update, which Abbott described as “profoundly disappointing”, said the targets of closing the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians within a generation, halving the gap in literacy and numeracy by 2018, and halving the gap in employment outcomes by 2018 were not on track. Literacy and numeracy rates had not improved since 2008 and Indigenous employment had fallen.
Two more targets, to halve the gap in child mortality rates by 2018 and to halve the gap in year 12 completion rates by 2020, were listed as on track.
However, the author of the Castan Centre report said it appeared unlikely that any of the targets would be met in the Territory.
“The intervention was meant to improve the lives of Indigenous people in the Northern Territory, but at this rate the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people may never close in many areas,” Dr Stephen Gray said.
He urged the government to adopt a new target of reducing Indigenous incarceration rates, as was recommended by the Close the Gap steering committee in 2014.
According to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics data, Indigenous people made up 3% of the population but 27% of the prison population, and 52% of all young people in detention. In the NT, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples make up 86% of the adult prisoner population and 96.9% of young people in detention. Incarceration rates are up 41% since the start of the intervention.
“I think there’s a perception that because family violence is such a crisis, because assault rates and child abuse are at such a crisis, we should not be always going on about Aboriginal imprisonment rates,” Gray said. “That sense that you can’t improve one without worsening the other is false.”
Amnesty International agreed, telling Guardian Australia that “any efforts at Closing the Gap cannot ignore these areas of massive inequality and the role that law and justice policy play in disadvantage.”
Reports of child abuse in the NT have decreased since 2010, but there has been a 500% increase in reports of self harm or suicide by Indigenous children and a sharp rise in the number of Indigenous children in care.
Gray said it was difficult to unpick the complicated mass of policy that governed the lives of Indigenous people in the NT, and that made it difficult to evaluate.
The intervention began with bipartisan support under the Howard government in 2007 as a response to a report about horrific levels of child sexual abuse in some Aboriginal communities, and was delivered as a complex suite of laws that altered everything from welfare payments to land tenure.
There was this presumption of rampant child sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities,” Gray told Guardian Australia. “It has been the excuse for a large number of other reforms that don’t really relate to child sexual abuse or family violence at all, like land reforms. It’s got very little to do with the original goals of the intervention.”
In 2008, the Rudd government reshaped it to focus on the new Closing the Gap targets but punitive measures remained, including more police, the removal of customary law and cultural practices from consideration in sentencing, quarantining welfare payments of those judged to have “neglected” their children, and tough penalties for possessing alcohol or pornography, as did the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act.
The Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act expired in 2012 and was extended by the Gillard government until 2022, under the new name of the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Act. The Racial Discrimination Act was reintroduced but the percentage of an individual’s welfare payments that could be quarantined under the BasicsCard increased to 70%, and penalties for possessing porn or alcohol in dry communities, including a single can of beer, increased to six months’ jail.
By then the government had produced 98 reports and seven parliamentary inquiries into the intervention, a weight of information Gray said obscured its negative effects, particularly the impact on human rights.
“There’s a danger that things get out of check because of the swift pace of apparent change,” he said. “Because wheels keep turning, another policy gets rebadged, funding gets moved, but the real pace of life in Aboriginal communities remains the same.”
The result, the report said, was that many of Australia’s international human rights obligations, including the right of Indigenous peoples to self-determination, continued to be “directly and knowingly violated or ignored”.
Prof Jon Altman, from the Alfred Deakin Centre for Citizenship and Globalisation, said the Castan Centre’s evaluation of the intervention was too generous. The government deserved a zero out of 10, he said, for its attempts to improve education, and a negative score on employment rates which had gone backwards since the decision to abolish the community development employment projects (CDEP) program, which employed about 33,000 Indigenous people, particularly in remote communities.
Altman, who has spent 40 years working in Aboriginal communities in the NT in particular, said the services previously delivered by community-led CDEP organisations were now being done by non-Indigenous organisations, while many who had worked under CDEP remained on “passive welfare”.
Aboriginal people are exceptional. When we can all acknowledge that, the gap will close
Despite the dire outcomes of the Closing the Gap report, there is great potential in Indigenous communities. Our greatest challenge might be in believing that
“The state needs to admit that it’s actually doing worse than Aboriginal community-based organisations,” he said
Altman argued the Close the Gap program should be abolished, saying it was assimilationist, had alienated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and had produced no significant benefits.
“It’s all based on a policy, an ideology, that progress in closing the gap will require people to adopt western norms,” he told Guardian Australia. “And that’s a pretty hard line. It really doesn’t leave people much wiggle room if they don’t want to be changed.
“My advice to the prime minister is to stop talking about closing the gap and start talking about improving people’s wellbeing and livelihoods, because those things are taking a hammering.”
The release of the Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report today shows that despite some gains, we still have a long way to go, with persistently high rates of disability and chronic disease in Aboriginal people and increasing rates of self-harm and incarceration.
Incoming National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) Chairperson Matthew Cooke said he was concerned about the impact of policies being proposed by state and federal governments, such as the GP co-payment and closure of remote Aboriginal communities, and a failure to re-commit to joint, coordinated efforts such as through National Partnership Agreements.
“We must celebrate the significant gains that have been made in areas such as infant mortality and life expectancy which are the result of concerted efforts across all levels of government over a number of years,” Mr Cooke said.
“We need continued investment if we are to close the gap further in these and other areas.
“National Partnership Agreements have lapsed, the COAG Reform Council has been disbanded and we don’t have anything in place of either to ensure the focus stays on improving the health and well being of Aboriginal people.
“The Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report also reveals the shocking increase in levels of psychological distress, self-harm and suicide in Aboriginal communities.
“The solution to these issues lies in building strong and resilient communities by reinforcing localised decision making, encouraging cultural identity and fostering connection to Country.
“Shutting down remote communities and forcing Aboriginal people to move to other communities, such as is being proposed in Western Australia, will only make matters worse.
“We also need greater consistency and resourcing on the ground for delivery of Social Emotional and Wellbeing (SEWB) programs. Where these are in place in our services they are reaping results as evidenced by a report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare into Aboriginal community controlled services.
“The fate of many of the SEWB programs currently lies with the Federal government’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy and we call on the government to make the right decisions to ensure these successful programs continue.”
Mr Cooke said the lack of progress in tackling the high levels of chronic disease and disability emphasises the importance of making primary health care as culturally appropriate and accessible as possible.
“Our sector remains very concerned about the impact of the proposed GP and PBS co-payments. We need to encourage Aboriginal people to have regular check ups and manage their health conditions properly, not add barriers to them seeking the health care they need.
“Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services are making inroads in getting Aboriginal people in the door to see a doctor or specialist and manage their chronic health conditions. They also employ and train large numbers of Aboriginal people – as seen in the recent NACCHO economic benefits report.
“Better support for, and expansion of, our services would help to reverse some of the poor health statistics we see in todays report over the long term.”
When Prime Minister Keating made his famous Redfern speech in 1992, I was an opposition staffer. My job was to disagree with everything he said. While I could quibble with aspects of that speech, I couldn’t disagree with its central point: that our failures towards Australia’s first people were a stain on our soul. That was a watershed moment for me, as for others. Many of us have been on a long journey. I can’t say that I have always been where I am now. The further this journey has gone, the more, for me, Aboriginal policy has become personal rather than just political.
It has become a personal mission to help my fellow Australians to open their hearts, as much as to change their minds, on Aboriginal policy.
We are a great country – I firmly believe the best on Earth.
But we will never be all that we should be until we do better in this.
There is no country on Earth where people are made more welcome.
There is no country on Earth whose people have more innate generosity to others.
Yet for two centuries – with fragrant exceptions, of course – Australians had collectively failed to show to Aboriginal people the personal generosity and warmth of welcome that we have habitually extended to the stranger in our midst.
Even as things began to change, a generation or two back, our tendency was to work “for” Aboriginal people rather than “with” them.
We objectified Aboriginal issues rather than personalised them.
We saw problems to be solved rather than people to be engaged with.
If that hardness of heart was ever really to melt, I thought, that change had to include me.
Because you can’t expect of others what you won’t demand of yourself.
So as a backbencher, I spent a few days every year in central Australia and always included a dinner with Charlie Perkins.
As a minister, I tried to spend a few days every year in remote Aboriginal communities – especially in Cape York and later in the APY lands for which my portfolios had particular responsibilities.
Yet after 14 years in the parliament, I found that I had visited dozens of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander places and not spent more than 12 hours in any one of them.
As shadow minister for Aboriginal Affairs, I asked Noel Pearson if he would help me to spend some serious time in individual communities where I could be useful – rather than just another seagull, as Aboriginal people so often called officious visitors.
So I spent three weeks in 2008 as a teacher’s aide in Coen; 10 days in 2009 as a truancy helper in Aurukun; four days in 2011 doing bush carpentry near Hopevale; and another four days in 2012 helping to renovate the Aurukun school library.
Later this year, as Prime Minister, I will spend a week in East Arnhem Land along with enough officials to make it, if only for a few days, the focus of our national government.
After 226 years of intermittent interest at most, why shouldn’t Aboriginal people finally have the Prime Minister’s undivided attention for seven days!
None of this makes me more worthy or less fallible than any of my predecessors – but it does demonstrate that this Government is serious about Aboriginal policy.
No less serious than it is about stopping the boats, fixing the budget, and building the roads of the 21st century.
I pay tribute to former prime minister John Howard for first proposing to recognise indigenous people in the constitution.
I pay tribute to former prime minister Kevin Rudd for the national apology.
I commend former prime minister Julia Gillard for continuing these annual Closing the Gap statements to focus the parliament’s attention on problems that might otherwise be neglected or glossed over.
I thank Kirstie Parker and Mick Gooda and members of the Closing the Gap steering committee.
I welcome the presence today of Warren Mundine and other members of the Prime Minister’s advisory council.
I welcome the presence of Andrew Forrest and others working on indigenous employment.
I especially welcome Fred Chaney, a former minister for Aboriginal affairs and mentor to me, whom I have often described as a distinguished elder – and who is now officially recognised as Senior Australian of the Year.
And I acknowledge the Australian of the Year, Adam Goodes, who has personally demonstrated, when bitter offence could have been taken, the “better angels of our natures”.
I welcome the first indigenous Member of the House of Representatives, Ken Wyatt, and the first indigenous woman member of this parliament, Senator Nova Peris – and I look forward to the day when the parliamentary representation gap is finally closed.
Most of all I welcome everyone the length and breadth of this great land who wants tomorrow to be better than today.
I can report that our country is on track to achieve some of the Closing the Gap targets.
The target to halve the gap in child mortality within a decade is on track to be met.
We are already close to meeting the target to have 95 per cent of remote children enrolled for pre-school – and should soon know what percentage are actually attending as well as just enrolled.
And the target to halve the gap in Year 12 attainment by 2020 is also on track to be met.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that there’s almost no progress in closing the life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and other Australians – which is still about a decade.
There’s been very little improvement towards halving the gap in reading, writing and numeracy.
And indigenous employment has, if anything, slipped backwards over the past few years.
We are not on track to achieve the more important and meaningful targets.
Because it’s hard to be literate and numerate without attending school; it’s hard to find work without a basic education; and it’s hard to live well without a job.
We are all passionate to Close the Gap.
We may be doomed to fail – I fear – until we achieve the most basic target of all: the expectation that every child will attend school every day.
Generally speaking, the more remote the school, the more excuses are made for poor attendance.
Last year, in metropolitan areas, only 81 per cent of indigenous Year 9 students met the National Minimum Standards for reading.
In very remote areas, just 31 per cent of indigenous students reached the same minimum standard.
Yet it’s being demonstrated in places like Aurukun that a strong education in traditional culture is actually helped by a good education in English.
Right around our country, it should be possible to be proudly Aboriginal and a full participant in modern Australia.
That doesn’t just mean access to a good education in cities, towns and remote settlements – it means actually going to school.
So I propose to add a new target to our existing Closing the Gap targets: namely to end the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous school attendance within five years.
I hope I am here long enough to be judged on its achievement.
We will know that this gap has been all-but-closed when schools achieve 90 per cent plus attendance regardless of their percentage of Aboriginal students.
This was the strong consensus of my indigenous advisory council’s first meeting: that no one ever received a good education by not going to school.
Every day, in every school, the roll is taken.
Every school knows its attendance rates.
Every education department knows the attendance rate for every school.
The lower the attendance rate, the more likely it is that a school has problems.
The lower the attendance rate, the more likely it is that a school is failing its students.
It’s the duty of every teacher and every education department to try to ensure that every child attends school unless there’s a very good reason.
One of the worst forms of neglect is failing to give children the education they need for a decent life.
That’s why every state and territory has anti-truancy laws.
That’s why the former government, to its credit, tried to quarantine welfare payments for families whose children weren’t at school.
That’s why, at my first COAG meeting, every state and territory agreed with the Commonwealth on the need to publish attendance data from every school.
And that’s why, at 40 remote schools, the Commonwealth is already funding new anti-truancy measures that, on day one of the 2014 school year, in some communities, seem to have boosted attendance from under 60 per cent to over 90 per cent.
Our job is to break the tyranny of low expectations.
That’s why indigenous school attendance data will be part of the next Closing the Gap report and all subsequent reports under this Government.
The parliament will be brought up-to-date on the relative success or failure of Aboriginal education because a good education is fundamental to a good start in life.
Future Closing the Gap reports should also include data on work programme participation and data on communities without a police presence.
These reports, after all, should be less about what government is doing and more about how people are living.
We will know that Aboriginal people are living better when children go to school, adults go to work and the ordinary law of the land is respected and enforced.
The first Aboriginal member of this parliament, Senator Neville Bonner, once warned his colleagues that history would judge us all.
We shouldn’t have to wait for the judgment of history and, thanks to these Closing the Gap statements, we don’t have to.
A fair go for Aboriginal people is far too important to be put off to the judgment of history.
We have to provide it now – or as soon as we reasonably can.
I am confident of this: amidst all the mistakes, disappointment and uncertain starts, the one failure that has mostly been avoided is lack of goodwill.
Australians are now as proud of our indigenous heritage as we are of all our other traditions.
The challenge is to turn good intentions into better outcomes.
I am confident that, these days at least, for every one step backwards we are also taking two steps forward.
To give just one example: on every ministerial visit to the APY lands, I used to complain that there were just eight police for 3000 people spread over an area the size of Scotland – and that none of them lived in any of the places where they were needed.
Six years later, these are hardly model communities, but every substantial settlement has a permanent police presence – thanks to the good work of the South Australian Labor government – because this was an objective beyond politics.
As Fred Chaney has just said, reflecting on a lifetime of work with Aboriginal people: there is so much left to do but – in this area – these really are the very best of times.
There is probably no aspect of public policy on which there is more unity of purpose and readiness to give others the benefit of the doubt.
On this subject, at least, our parliament is at its best.
Our duty is to make the most of this precious moment.
Relationships built on trust, integrity and respect are crucial for effective engagement with Indigenous communities, according to two papers released today on the Closing the Gap Clearinghouse website.
Engaging with Indigenous Australia—exploring the conditions for effective relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities reviews the evidence on engagement and outlines the conditions required for effective engagement.
The evidence shows that engaging successfully with Indigenous communities requires:
an appreciation of the historical, social, cultural and political complexity of specific Indigenous contexts
active Indigenous participation from the earliest stage of defining the problem to be solved and defining aspirations, through to implementing the program and evaluating the results
long term relationships of trust, respect and honesty, as well as accessible and ongoing communication and clarity about roles and responsibilities
genuine efforts to share power, including through negotiated agreements
clarity about the purpose of and scale for engagement and appropriate timeframes
attention to strengthening governance and capacity within both the Indigenous community and governments themselves, and good leadership
negotiation of clear and agreed outcomes and indicators of success with monitoring and evaluation processes that meet each parties’ needs.
This paper says evidence shows that effective engagement requires strong and strategic Indigenous and government leadership and adequate governance, and that hurried one-off ‘consultations’ that are organised without Indigenous input do not work.
Fragmented arrangements, where each agency tries to engage with the same Indigenous people and organisations, place unnecessarily heavy burdens on Indigenous people.
These findings are consistent with the findings of the second paper, Engagement with Indigenous communities in key sectors. This paper reviews evidence from studies of Indigenous engagement in early childhood services, environmental and natural resource management activities, and health programs at local, regional, state and national levels.
It outlines the common lessons on different levels of engagement from local engagement through to regional, state-wide and national engagement.
The Closing the Gap Clearinghouse is jointly funded by all Australian governments and provides an online source of information on what works to close the gap in Indigenous disadvantage. It is delivered by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) and the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS).
NOTE: This press release provided for the information of NACCHO members and stakeholders but not endorsed in anyway by NACCHO
Shadow Indigenous Affairs Minister Senator Nigel Scullion,(pictured above centre on a recent visit to the CENTRE) speaking from the Garma Festival in Arnhem Land, said Minister Jenny Macklin’s speech on Labor’s plans for Indigenous affairs was underwhelming and more about throwing money around, bureaucratic plans and targets rather than results.
“Labor announced $90 million, to come from the Aboriginals Benefit Account (ABA) for government employee housing – I doubt that Aboriginal people living in overcrowded conditions would see government employee housing as a priority,” Senator Scullion said.
“And Labor will make a mess of it in the same way as they did with the hopeless billion dollar plus NT remote housing program. Funding announced for homelands is welcome.
“The ABA is funded through the Aboriginal Land Rights Act to support projects that benefit indigenous people in the Northern Territory. It is Aboriginal money and should not be thrown about in an election campaign as a political football.
“The Coalition supports the proposed new alcohol management plans announced by Ms Macklin but we will ensure it is not done in the typical Labor bureaucratic way that produces nothing on the ground.
“Ms Macklin cannot pretend to take the high moral ground on alcohol plans when it was her and the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd Government that approved Aboriginal money to bankroll two Alice Springs IGA supermarkets that sell alcohol to Aboriginal people. Police have reported three breaches of alcohol licensing requirements at these supermarkets to do with irresponsible service of alcohol to indigenous people.
“The Coalition will provide bipartisan support for Labor’s proposed new Closing the Gap targets on incarceration rates, higher education and disability services but I am worried if we get too many targets they will lose their impact and then we could lose focus. But it is not the targets that make the difference its results that count – we need more than good intentions. Delivery has not been the strong suit of the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd Government.
“Arguable progress in only three of the six closing the gap targets is not much of a scorecard. The results for indigenous education indicators are going backwards – in 2012, 14 out of the 20 NAPLAN indicators the gap has widened compared to 2011. The results in remote and very remote areas are a disgrace.
“The Coalition is focused on results and remains committed to the concept of rights, recognition and indigenous-led responsibility as fundamental building blocks of our Indigenous Affairs policy,” Senator Scullion said.
1School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW.
2Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, Centre for Child Health Research, University of Western Australia, Perth, WA.
Regular monitoring and supportive federal and state public policy are critical to closing the gap in child health
Health and wellbeing of children and young people are the keys to human capability of future generations. Human capability includes the capacity to participate in economic, social and civil activities and be a valued contributor to society;1 it means that not only can you usefully live, work and vote, but you can be a good parent to your children. Thus there is no better investment that the state can make than to influence factors that will enhance the health and wellbeing of children and youth.
There were an estimated 200 245 First Nations2 children aged 0–14 years in Australia in 2011, comprising 4.9% of the total child population and 35% of the total First Nations population.3 With such a high proportion of children compared with the non-Aboriginal population, the First Nations population is much younger, with fewer adults per child to care for them. An Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth report adds to evidence from the most recent Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report on the health of Australia’s children to document the growing divide between the health of First Nations and other Australian children.3,4
Child health indicators include mortality rates (Box, A), prevalence of chronic conditions, indicators of early development (including rates of dental decay [Box, B]), promotion of early learning (eg, adults reading to children in preschool years) and school readiness assessed with the Australian Early Development Index (Box, C).3 Risk factors for poor child health include: teenage pregnancies; smoking and alcohol exposure during pregnancy; pregnancy outcomes such as stillbirths, low birthweight and preterm births; the proportion of children aged 5–14 years who are overweight or obese; and the proportion of children aged 12–15 years who are current smokers. In addition, indicators of the level of safety and security of children — including rates of accidental injury, substantiated reports of child abuse and neglect, evidence of children as victims of violence, and indicators of homelessness and crime — further highlight how poorly Aboriginal children fare during childhood.
Owing to significant gaps in available data, Australia is not included in UNICEF reports relevant to First Nations children, including The children left behind: a league table of inequality in child well-being in the world’s rich countries.5 This report is important for many First Nations children who experience conditions near the bottom because it focuses on closing the gap between the bottom and the middle:
We should focus on closing the gap between the bottom and the middle not because that is the easy thing to do, but because focusing on those who do not have the chance of a good life is the most important thing to do.5
While there has been progress, particularly in educational outcomes, the gap in healthy child development in safe and secure environments is disturbing. It has resulted from of a variety of complex social circumstances, due to colonisation, marginalisation and forced removals. To effectively and successfully interrupt and reverse these generational traumas on today’s children, careful and sensitive First Nations-led programs are required. Programs in Canada and Australia have shown that the major protective and healing effects of strong culture are immensely powerful, even in urban situations, which highlights the value of strong government support for such programs in Australia. For example, putting First Nations children and youth into cultural programs is more effective than incarceration for preventing recidivism, and increased recognition of Aboriginal cultures in school curricula increases rates of high school completion by First Nations students.6
Drawing on our own and overseas data,7 we believe that Australian services have failed to close the gap in child health because they have been developed without involving or engaging First Nations people. When participatory action research methods are used, as has been done with Inuit communities in Nunavut in Canada,8 the use and success of services are dramatic. Such strategies lead to higher levels of local employment, higher self-esteem, and reduced mental illness and substance misuse among First Nations people. British Columbian data on First Nations youth suicide rates have shown that the lowest rates in Canada were in communities with strong culture and Aboriginal control of services (eg, health, education and community safety).9 This means that a major rethink of services for First Nations people is needed, and that centralised policy applied to multiple diverse communities is unlikely to work. Although the policy content of what needs to be done can be developed centrally based on existing evidence (eg, alcohol in pregnancy causes brain damage, early childhood environments are vital to help children to be ready for school, complete immunisation prevents infections, and avoiding sweet drinks prevents obesity and dental decay), development and implementation of services need to be done locally and with community involvement. A great example of this is the strategy to overcome fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) that was developed by Aboriginal women June Oscar and Emily Carter and the First Nations people of Fitzroy Valley. This comprehensive and effective strategy has enabled the community to think and act beyond the stigma of FASD — community members drove the design and implementation of programs to prevent FASD, and they created opportunities and support mechanisms to enable the best possible treatment for children with FASD.10
Building on the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth report,4 we need a consistent national framework for monitoring health status and an understanding of the impact of federal and state policies on First Nations children. Recent policies with the potential to affect First Nations children include: the Northern Territory intervention, the loosening of alcohol restrictions in the Northern Territory, policies aimed at addressing overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in child protection reporting, housing policies (including evictions and the transfer of public housing properties to ownership and management by non-government organisations), policies that have changed financial support for single parents, education policies aimed at assessing school readiness and other policies aimed at closing the gap in health. The effects of these policies on First Nations children need to be considered in regular assessments of public policy, with the needs of children prioritised over competing interests.
The exciting thing is that we now have a growing number of Aboriginal health care providers and other university-trained professionals to employ to make services effective. We have equity in medical student intakes which augurs well for future progress in this critical area. The dream of having appropriate, culturally safe policies, programs and services for our First Nations children can become a reality if it is supported and promoted by all levels of government.
Child health indicators that show a divide between First Nations and other Australian children*
SES = socioeconomic status. LBOTE = language background other than English. * Adapted with permission from A picture of Australia’s children 2012.3† Developmentally vulnerable on one or more Australian Early Development Index domains.