• Coalition of peak bodies from left Donnella Mills, Antoinette Braybrook, Pat Turner, John Paterson, Muriel Bamblett, Cheryl Axleby. (NITV)Source: NITV
Representatives from nearly fifty Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak organisations have sat down with the Prime Minister to prevent another year of failing health, education and employment targets.
Shahni Wellington

23 Jan 2020 - 2:20 PM  UPDATED 23 Jan 2020 - 2:24 PM

Prime Minister Scott Morrison played host to the Coalition of Peaks in Canberra on Thursday morning, to develop a new National Agreement on Closing the Gap.

The body comprises nearly fifty Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak organisations, including national and state bodies.

In 2018, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) committed to working with the Coalition of Peaks as part of a Closing the Gap refresh to improve Indigenous disadvantage.

Thursday’s meeting comes ahead of the next COAG meeting in March, when the new agreement is expected to be given the stamp of approval.

Member of the Coalition of Peaks and Chairperson of the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body, Katrina Fanning, said the discussions were promising.

“We’re actually looking for quite significant structural reforms to the way government does business with us and not to us, and the only way that can deliver as broadly and deeply as we need it to, is for our mob to be involved,” Ms Fanning said.

“It's a real privilege to represent so many of our communities and to say directly [to government], ‘this is how we want things to change what it needs to look like,’ and to actually have the senior decision makers in the country agree with that and agree to keep working with us to achieve that.”

Community voices

Since September last year, three formal engagements led by the Coalition of Peaks has seen nearly 4000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people having their say on what is needed to close the gap.

The response overwhelmingly supported three main points of reform: Developing formal partnerships between communities and the government at all levels, growing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled services and improving mainstream service delivery.

Thursday's meeting, that included the Prime Minister, the Minister for Indigenous Australians and the Deputy-Prime Minister, was an opportunity for government to hear those responses.

Head of the Coalition of Peaks and National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation’s (NACCHO) chief executive, Pat Turner, also used her address to reflect on the failures of the past.

“We know that over many years, our people have lost faith in the Closing the Gap policy.

 “People disengaged, governments too, lost faith - seemingly contented with the reported failures,” Ms Turner said.

“The Coalition of Peaks is rising to the challenge…

 “Today, the Coalition of Peaks brings those voices to the cabinet table.”

PM's common goal

Since the Close the Gap strategy was introduced in 2008, each successive Prime Minister has reported that the targets are not on track.

Last year marked the last report tabled under the framework that showed only two of the seven targets on track to be met, with the government conceding that it needed to start again.

In the meeting, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, described a common goal and said the new model will not have a top-down approach.

“I want Indigenous boys and girls to grow up with the same opportunities in life as every other Australian, at least.

“And we have such a huge job, which has been the task of governments for many years and I think today is another step in that process,” he said.

“Indigenous communities define priorities and then we work together to close the gap from where you see it, not from where we sit, as a government.”

The new national agreement is expected to be finalised in the coming months.

Peak bodies meet to overhaul framework for Closing the Gap
The representative body of around 40 Aboriginal organisations meets for second time to progress plans for developing a new Closing the Gap framework.