The Joint Council on Closing the Gap reached an agreement that all Governments must join forces and work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives to reduce Indigenous incarceration.

The Joint Council, which includes representatives from the Federal Government and all State and Territory Governments as well as the Coalition of Peaks, came to the agreement during a meeting on April 16, a day after the 30th anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

The Joint Council agreed to accelerate the high priority of establishing a Policy Partnership on Justice with the aim of reducing both youth and adult incarceration.

At least 474 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in custody since the Royal Commission issued its 339 recommendations in 1991.

Patricia Turner AM, Lead Convenor of the Coalition of Peaks said government, in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives, must take “urgent and decisive steps to address the over-incarceration of our peoples”.

“For the first time, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives will be at the table with ministers, Attorneys-General, government officials, corrections, policing, housing and health under a formal shared decision-making arrangement,” she said.

The Joint Council agreed on its response to the first Partnership Health Check, which monitors and assesses the working relationship between the Coalition of Peaks and Australian governments, and agreed in principle to publication of the Partnership Health Check Report, the Joint Council Response, the Risk Register and revised Joint Council Terms of Reference once feedback from all jurisdictions is finalised.

“The Partnership we have formed with governments is unprecedented and it will take some time to get it right,” said Turner.

“Governments aren’t used to working alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives as equal partners, so there is a lot of growth and learning taking place on both sides.”

The Health Check found the Partnership has been successful in its first major task of negotiating a new National Agreement on Closing the Gap, which came into effect last July.

“The success of our Partnership is evident in the influence we had in reshaping the Closing the Gap policy through the new National Agreement and the Priority Reforms that came from our community engagements,” said Turner.

“But we still have work to do in strengthening our partnership based on shared decision making moving forward.”

The Joint Council’s response to the Partnership Health Check includes actions to strengthen shared decision-making between the Coalition of Peaks and governments, clarifies the roles and responsibilities of all parties, and ensures strong governance processes are in place to deliver on the National Agreement.

The Joint Council endorsed updates to the Strategic Plan for funding the development of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled sector from the $77.2 million joint funding pool.

They also endorsed new investment priorities in both the health and disability sectors to deliver services to support Closing the Gap, including but not limited to:

  • Increasing the capacity of the community-controlled health sector to provide comprehensive services, in particular, targeted investment in the computers, software, and digital clinical equipment of Aboriginal Community-Controlled Health Organisations.
  • Building the capacity of the national peak body and other peaks to influence policy and build the community-controlled disability sector, including to engage across sectors particularly in health, early childhood and housing, to respond to the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disabilities.
  • Building the capacity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisations to deliver a full range of culturally responsive disability support services that achieve much greater social and economic participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disabilities.

The Joint Council’s Joint Communications Strategy was released on Friday, which will be used to support engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to build awareness of the National Agreement and provide assistance when talking to governments about how commitments apply to communities and organisations across the country.

The updated Strategic Plan, the Joint Communications Strategy and the meeting communique are available on the Closing the Gap and Coalition of Peaks websites at https://coalitionofpeaks.org.au/ and https://www.closingthegap.gov.au/

By Giovanni Torre