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Calls for Closing the Gap to be 'above politics'

Rudi Maxwell -

Calls for courage, unity, change and accountability have been issued from across the political spectrum in parliament when senators rose to make statements on Closing the Gap.

And while the ideas on what will help improve equity between First Nations and other Australians differed wildly, they all agreed on one fundamental aspect: past approaches have not worked.

In early February the government tabled its Closing the Gap annual report for 2023 and implementation plan for 2024 in parliament, promising to drive cultural change across all levels of government to help address entrenched Indigenous inequality.

Only 11 out of 19 socio-economic outcomes under the national agreement on Closing the Gap are improving and just four are on track to meet their targets.

"We need this government to be courageous, we need them to stop making lame excuses and we need to make the big structural changes that is going to see the gap close within a generation," Greens senator Dorinda Cox said.

One Nation senator Pauline Hanson took the opportunity to take a swipe at "Indigenous elites", claiming the answers to closing the gap were simple and complained she had been condemned as racist.

"Stop blaming white Australians and colonialism," she said, calling for an audit on "where the money has gone".

But Labor senator Malarndirri McCarthy described Senator Hanson's remarks as degrading and said Indigenous people wanted the same things as other Australians.

"It is an absolute slur on this parliament," she said.

"The reason why we stand here every year in February is to remind the country that inequality still exists … no political party is to blame for the complete disadvantage and poverty that exists out there, but we do have to take responsibility, as all parties, to improve it.

"This should actually be above politics."

Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians Jacinta Price and fellow Coalition senator Kerrynne Liddle backed Senator Hanson's call for an audit.

Senator Nampijinpa Price repeated her demand for a royal commission into Indigenous child sexual abuse, a call that has been roundly condemned by child protection experts, First Nations and human rights organisations as repetitive, stigmatising and unnecessary.

"I hope that we begin a fundamental rethink of the current method, a questioning of the premise from which we launch our fight for real change and an end to the separatism that has characterised our approach so far," she said.

"I believe what the Coalition believes: we can close the gap, but it starts with change not more virtue signalling and empty gestures."

Senator Jana Stewart defended Labor's approach, saying the Albanese government was committed to making practical progress.

"Since coming to government, we've begun the change to treat politics differently," she said.

"We will continue to deliver on the Closing the Gap implementation plan by working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, not by telling mob what they need."

Rudi Maxwell - AAP

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