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"Like groundhog day" - Yothu Yindi Foundation says Productivity Commission findings were all too predictable

Dechlan Brennan -

A "drastic" overhaul of GST funding and the way governments interact with Indigenous communities are some of the suggestions from the Yothu Yindi Foundation in response to the Productivity Commission report released Wednesday.

The report, which argued the National Agreement on Closing the Gap progress was an "opportunity governments cannot continue to waste", has drawn responses from multiple Indigenous health, legal and human rights groups, arguing it is time for Indigenous-led responses to be listened to and implemented.

Yothu Yindi Foundation (YYF) said they were calling for multiple changes.

These include an immediate reform of the GST Model, so funding is better tied to definitive purposes and place; a "major billion-dollar infrastructure fund" to address the significant overcrowding and homeless issues that plague NT remote communities; improved accountability to maintain transparent government spending; and renewing the focus on township leasing.

Township leasing is a type of land tenure that allows Traditional Owners to maximise the potential of their land economically - without any compromise in the land's ownership - to support "greater community control, security of tenure, and certainty in expenditure."

YYF said their suggested reforms were needed to address the "appalling disadvantage that Indigenous people continue to experience."

The Foundation's chief executive, Denise Bowden, said the findings of the final report on the Closing the Gap review were "depressingly predictable for those working on the frontline."

She argued the YYF submission to the review warned Aboriginal disadvantage would remain in "perpetuity" without long-standing and deep structural reform, stating simply: "enough is enough."

"At what stage are we going to stop analysing this data and start acting?" Ms Bowden said.

"It feels like ground-hog day."

She said all of the issues discussed in the report had been highlighted by YYF repeatedly, including in the PC's 2019 Indigenous Evaluation Strategy, and its 2017 Inquiry into Horizontal Fiscal Equalisation.

"All the recommendations, and all the findings, seem to disappear down the drain. When are we going to get serious and do something that makes a difference?" she said.

"As the Commission argues, we need to fundamentally overhaul the way all levels of government address Aboriginal disadvantage and give Indigenous people agency over the policies and decisions which affect their lives."

Ms Bowden has consistently advocated for fairer proportion of government support for Indigenous communities. In 2019 she told the Garma Festival Australian governments were "dining out" on Aboriginal misery

YYF was established to promote Yolngu cultural development, alongside community leaders and persons of authority from the five regional clan groups of Gumatj, Rirratjingu, Djapu, Galpu and Wangurri. Their mission statement is for Yolngu and other Indigenous Australians to have the same level of well-being and life opportunities as non-Indigenous Australians.

Ms Bowden said the evidence of work in the NT showed Aboriginal-led decisions, and controlled organisations and groups, were successful and should be replicated.

"We've seen what works here in northeast Arnhem Land through the success of the 13-clan Dilak Council cultural authority, and it's time we properly listened to Aboriginal community leaders."

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