The 2021 Close the Gap report, Leadership and Legacy Through Crises: Keeping our Mob Safe, released last week calls for significant systemic reform, an end to deaths in custody, and investment in Indigenous health, wellbeing, culture and Country.

Released on National Close the Gap Day (the third Thursday in March), the report shares 15 recommendations, including:

  • A long term, coordinated cross-sectoral funding commitment from all levels of Government for the full implementation of the new National Agreement on Closing the Gap
  • Full implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart and a constitutionally enshrined First Nations Voice
  • A commitment to preventative and rehabilitative measures through justice reinvestment to First Nations incarceration
  • Raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14-years-old.

The report also calls for a national strategy to effectively respond to the systemic racism exposed by COVID-19, the bushfire response and Black Lives Matter.

It asks to see the full implementations of the recommendations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar’s AO Wiyi Yani U Thangani report, and asks for greater environmental and heritage protections for culturally significant or sacred sites.

National Close the Gap Day Campaign. Photo supplied.

The report was written by the Close the Gap campaign in partnership with the Lowitja Institute. The Close the Gap campaign is an independent, Indigenous-led campaign co-chaired by June Oscar AO and National Association of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker and Practitioners (NAATSIHWP) CEO Karl Briscoe.

“We must finish the unfinished business all Australians deserve: health equality.”

“During COVID-19, Aboriginal leaders moved quickly and decisively to safeguard communities. We proved again what we have always known, that programs that are designed and led by our people are the most effective way to achieve better health outcomes. We need them to be fully funded,” Briscoe and Oscar said.

“Self-determination is critical and to ensure that change occurs, our voices must be heard by governments at every level of society. We need the implementation of the constitutional Voice, Treaty and truth-telling processes enshrined in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.”

Lowitja Institute CEO Dr Janine Mohamed noted that the 2021 report highlighted the leadership of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community through the COVID-19 pandemic and bushfires.

“There is no more a glowing example of our leadership than our COVID-19 rates where the number of cases among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is six times lower than the rest of Australia,” Dr Mohamed said.

“Some of our homelands — only recently threatened with closure by governments — were among the safest places in Australia. That is an outstanding result, not just nationally but globally where so many Indigenous communities have been devastated by the virus.”

Dr Mohamed said these achievements show the power of strength-based, community-led leadership.

“I hope this leads to more trust and commitment to work with us,” she said.

“We must be allowed to lead, and we will only ever travel at the speed of trust.

“Governments are not the solution; we as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are the solutions to governments.”

Oxfam Australia’s First Peoples Program National Manager Ngarra Murray echoed Dr Mohamed sentiments.

“We already have the solutions to ‘close the gap’ within our grasp — we just need governments to empower our communities to keep leading the way in facing the challenges of our times, so they can continue to deliver outstanding results,” Murray said.

Read the report here.

By Rachael Knowles