On Thursday 30 July 2020, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt announced new targets for 'Closing the Gap'. The government's new operational framework emphasises the need for government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to have shared responsibility and decision making.
In 2008, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) released the 'Closing the Gap' concept, committing to address Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander inequalities. Targets for reducing inequalities in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life expectancy, mortality, education and employment were set. These targets were set for our people - not by us or even with us.
Closing the gap became a deficit-minded framework that could be used to describe Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. A series of statistics that focused on the symptoms of a tragedy without dealing with the cause. The notion of 'gap' perpetuated this deficit mindset by assuming that predominantly European-derived cultures set the standards to which other cultures should strive. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations pushed to have a formal say on any refresh or policies and implementation strategies relating to our people.
The Coalition of Peaks, a body comprised of around fifty Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled peak organisations, came together in 2019 to partner with Australian governments on closing the gap. This group have been instrumental in getting the new targets and reform to the position they are today.
After reading the targets and the new operational framework I can't help but ask myself, is this approach more of the same? Dealing with the symptoms as opposed to the cause.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have struggled for constitutional recognition over a long period of time. The power to contribute to the decisions that are made for us and about us. The new closing the gap reform has placed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at the table through the coalition of peaks. This is a step in the right direction. There is no doubt that Aboriginal community-controlled organisations employ some of the hardest working, passionate and innovative people, driven to improve the life outcomes of our people. However, this will not deliver the structural reform that addresses constitutional recognition.
While we wait another 10 years to see if this approach will work, we have a generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people whose lives will be determined by its impact. We need to get this right; we can't afford to wait.
Nathan Towney is a proud Wiradjuri man and Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous Strategy and Leadership at the University of Newcastle
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