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Change the Record: Closing The Gap report raises questions over will for meaningful change

Dechlan Brennan -

Australia's only First Nations-led coalition of legal, health and family violence prevention experts, Change the Record, has responded to the findings and recommendations of a new Productivity Commission report which found governments across Australia have largely not fulfilled their commitments under the National Agreement on Closing the Gap.

Gunggari person and national director at Change the Record, Maggie Munn, said the agreement was a formal acceptance by governments nationwide for the pressing need of widespread institutional change, which would be pursued through "four priority reforms to the way governments do business."

"Their collective failure to progress the priority reforms raises questions about how much political will there is in our governments to confront and redress the genocide and dispossession that has occurred on this continent," they said.

Munn said First Nations people had advocated on behalf of their communities since colonisation and Aboriginal community-controlled organisations (ACCOs) have led "culturally informed, place-based health and legal services to improve the lives of their communities" for more than 50 years.

"First Nation communities have the will, vision, and solutions to make significant strides towards closing the gap; they just need to be empowered to do so," they said.

"The report from the Productivity Commission shows that words and commitments from the government mean very little when it comes to our people."

Munn highlighted evidence and information - from both Australia and globally - showing self-determination was more than just a right for Indigenous people, but a significant method for improving key metrics. Many of these were outlined in the Close the Gap framework.

In September last year, the Yoorrook Justice Commission urged Victoria to allow Indigenous-led responses in the child protection system. These comments have been mirrored by ACCOs nationally, around child safety; domestic violence; and the criminal justice system.

"For decades, communities have been going to governments, providing this evidence, advising on services and systems that will make a meaningful difference in the lives of our people, and advocating for our inherent rights," Munn said.

Munn said they were grateful for the Commission's "genuine consultation" with Indigenous people and communities in holding the progress of the Agreement's key priority areas to account.

They argued the findings were not surprising, but hoped that whilst damning, they would be the catalyst for widespread acceptance by the government and "used as a catalyst for systemic reform in how the government engages with First Nation Communities."

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