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"Patchy" Closing the Gap progress "not in line with commitments by governments" - Coalition of Peaks responds to review

Aaron Bloch -

Progress on the National Agreement on Closing the Gap revealed in the latest Productivity Commission review is not what was hoped for, or what was promised by governments, the Coalitions of Peaks says.

This latest paper focuses on the first phase of engagement with First Nations organisations as well as government agencies.

Feedback from Indigenous organisations and government representatives included suggestions some “engagement fatigue” was occurring, whilst some First Nations people said they have not felt heard on issues important to them.

The review suggests support for the Agreement is widespread, with most parties wanting to see its implementation succeed. However the review also identified a lack of clarity over which agencies were responsible for actions under Closing the Gap, with greater coordination between government bodies needed.

Community-controlled Indigenous organisations said there was a lack of support for their role in Closing the Gap, and expressed concern over the lack of time given to contribute to the development of Implementation Plans.

Feedback also suggested governmental change was slow and factors of institutional racism remain significant - with agencies reluctant to acknowledge the problem.

National Agreement on Closing the Gap was signed in 2020 by all Australian governments and the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Organisations (the Coalition of Peaks).

Coalition of Peaks lead convenor Patricia Turner AM said while the Coalition has been encouraged by “some progress” of governments to embrace and implement the Priority Reforms in the National Agreement, “overall effort is patchy”.

“It’s not what we had hoped and not in line with the commitments made by governments. Governments are behind on several commitments, and some actions have been addressed in a cursory way that has not led to genuine change,” she said.

At National Cabinet last week, the Prime Minister along with all other First Ministers re-committed to the National Agreement.

Ms Turner welcomed the re-commitment, believing it was needed, but suggested that support was not present “on the ground in the way governments work with our communities and organisations”.

“We are still seeing too many instances of governments picking and choosing when and how they apply the Priority Reforms,” she said.

Ms Turner suggested the immediate response to the recent issues in Alice Springs is indicative of these concerns.

“Governments rushing in, panicking, and making hasty decisions without first negotiating with Aboriginal leaders,” she said.

“Along with many other respected leaders in the NT, I spoke publicly about the situation and what Governments needed to do to achieve improved outcomes. I then raised my concerns directly with the National Cabinet and with the NT Chief Minister.”

Ms Turner said she was confident these concerns will be acted on in Alice Springs through the partnership between government and local Aboriginal leaders working to address the situation. 

“The further investment by both governments needs to be sufficient and sustained. We are dealing with decades of neglect in housing, infrastructure, and service delivery in our communities, so it will necessarily take a sustained effort by the tripartite partnership to ensure change is occurring for the better,” she said.

Ms Turner noted life outcomes for First Nations people and the success of the Agreement “depends on governments transforming the way they work”.

“Knowing there is support from all First Ministers, I am hopeful that governments, together with the Coalition of Peaks, can turn this situation around and implement the National Agreement in full,” she said.

Future engagement aims to prioritise engagement with communities and people rather than representative bodies as the Commission aims to release a draft report in July and the Final Report to the Joint Council on Closing the Gap in December.


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