• Prime minister Tony Abbott delivers the annual closing the gap address at Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)
With nearly all frontline services responsible for Closing the Gap wiped out in the last budget, has this been the biggest betrayal and failure of Australia's First Peoples since colonisation?
Danny Teece-Johnson

The Conversation
11 Feb 2015 - 2:59 PM  UPDATED 10 Mar 2015 - 8:42 PM


Closing the Gap was the substance behind the 2008 National Apology to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. Then the Coalition Of Australian Governments agreed to six ambitious targets to address the disadvantage faced by Indigenous Australians in life expectancy, child mortality, education and employment.

Close the Gap was the new catch cry of the government, this was going to "save" Aboriginal Australia. It was introduced with big dollars behind it much like the Recognise Campaign, stickers, posters and the odd sprinkling of celebrity to endorse it.

So it’s 2015, are we closing the Gap?

Unpacking the data that makes up the Closing the Gap numbers, summarising them and turning them into a report people can actually understand seems like it can take a lifetime. And if I was an Aboriginal man in Wilcannia that lifetime would be 37 years.

Little much has changed out there. At least not for Aboriginal people.

Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Mick Gooda said the government were giving a “muddled narrative”. 

"I wouldn't go as far to say 'a headless chook' but what we're seeing is an incoherent approach," he said.

"We've got Indigenous Advancement Strategy being run out of the Prime Ministerial cabinet. We've got health running out of somewhere else. We've got the Twiggy Forrest review. We've got the Indigenous Advisory Council. Yet we're not hearing a coherent way forward."

So why can't we Close the Gap in the areas that matter most? You know, the ones that actually make us feel like human beings.

In the areas of imprisonment and juvenile detention, mental health, suicide and self harm, and - last but not least - access to clean water, functional sewerage and electricity services, that gap is nowhere near closing. It's widening. What used to be a little creek is now a cascading river that nobody knows how to cross.

As former Coordinator General of the 'Closing the Gap' program, Brian Gleeson has better insight than most.

"There is not a consistent and coherent integrated approach to how we measure the progress," Gleeson told NITV. "Why can't we work together and have one report? Rather than all trying to do the same thing."

In the COAG target areas of employment, early childhood education and substantiated child abuse and neglect there has been no improvement at all.

Sure we are kicking some goals with our life expectancy and infant mortality. Yes, some of us are earning more (due to the 15 minutes of fame that was the mining boom) and more of us are getting through high school. These must be celebrated; we've worked too hard as a people not to celebrate the wins.

But with still so much to do, how is the Closing the Gap program monitored? How is it measured and how is it reported on? Better still, how is it failing?

Both Liberal and Labor have to take their share of responsibility in the continuing failure of the Closing the Gap Program, both have had a red hot go at it.

However with Tony Abbott sweeping to power and proclaiming himself the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs, there was hope that there may be change. And there was, in the shape of a $534 million cut to Indigenous Affairs backed by Warren Mundine's Indigenous Advisory Council.

So with just about all of the frontline services responsible for Closing the Gap completely wiped out in the last budget - has this been the biggest betrayal and failure of Australia's First Peoples since colonisation?

Mr Prime Minister, please take a bow. You have helped create the biggest headless chook of a policy Australia has ever seen.

Article originally published on The Conversation