• Smoking Ceremony; Welcoming Waminda Goodjaga’s on Yuin Country Mum and Bub; Elizabeth Luland & Nat McLeod (Supplied by the Close the Gap Campaign Steering Committee)
The latest report card on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander well-being has found improvements in early childhood enrolments and Year 12 attainment, but poor results in life expectancy, child mortality and employment.
By
Shahni Wellington, Jack Latimore

Source:
NITV News
12 Feb 2020 - 4:34 PM  UPDATED 12 Feb 2020 - 4:34 PM

The poor results contained in this year’s Close the Gap report appears not to have surprised some members of the Coalition of Peaks, a body made up of more than 50 community-controlled peak Aboriginal organisations.

Last year, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) committed to working with the Coalition of Peaks as part of a Closing the Gap (CTG) 'refresh' - a move aimed to involve First Nations people in decision-making and prevent yet another failed report.

But the 2019-2020 findings for rates of Indigenous disadvantage shows just two of seven goals are on track - Pre-school education and Year 12 attainment.

CEO of First Nations Media, Catherine Liddle, said the next steps are crucial in breaking the cycle.

"The government's say that they are listening, and certainly you would have heard that today. What we haven't seen is real action," she said.

Ms Liddle says the future depends on a meaningful partnership.

"We must support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to control and deliver the programs and services that our communities need, in recognition that we are the experts in what we need these programs designed by us, and not for us," she said. 

Only 2 of the 7 targets are on track to be met.

In a statement, Cheryl Axleby, Co-Chair of National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS) said the report revealed progress on the majority of the targets remained off track.  

“The gap in mortality rates between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous Australians increased last year and there are very worrying signs on infant mortality. 

“The Federal Government needs to commit to funding solutions to end over-imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and they must be implemented alongside other areas of disadvantage in the Closing the Gap strategy - health, education, family violence, employment, housing - in order to create real change for future generations.”

NATSILS co-chair, Nerita Waight, added that the peak body was also "deeply concerned" about the Federal Government’s decision to not continue funding for remote Indigenous housing.

"Access to safe and affordable housing is essential to Closing the Gap,” said Ms Waight.  

Closing the gap: Connection to culture key to ageing well
As the government handed down its annual Closing the Gap report this morning, another study was launched on the New South Wales mid-north coast with a positive focus on ageing.

Overnight, the head of the Coalition of Peaks and National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation’s (NACCHO) chief executive, Pat Turner, told the ABC she is frustrated that the federal government will end funding of Indigenous housing, leaving a $6 billion gap.

"We have to change the way we are working to improve the life outcomes of our people, and governments must rapidly increase their investment in Aboriginal housing, because the gap can't close without doing that," she said on Tuesday night.

Ms Turner said she understands the federal government will withdraw its national funding for Aboriginal Housing, and instead rely on state-based agreements. 

"It is just a unilateral decision taken by the government and surely, they can't expect states to pick up a $6 billion backlog that both they and the Commonwealth have been responsible for allowing it to get to that situation."

Ms Turner said the next steps could be the circuit-breaker that is needed.

"However, if they view this process as little more than window dressing for the status quo, the cycle of failure evident in today’s report is doomed to continue.”

The Coalition of Peaks has put forward structural priority reforms to the way governments work with and deliver services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

"Shortcomings"

The 2020 CTG report shows mortality rates for Indigenous children under five has widened to more than twice the rate for non-Indigenous children.

According to the report, school attendance rates for Indigenous students have not improved over the past five years, while Indigenous students still trail their non-Indigenous class mates in literacy and numeracy.

Reducing the employment gap and improving life expectancy also failed to meet the target.

A new National Agreement on Closing the Gap, which will set out the priorities over the next ten years, is expected to be finalised in April and then will go to COAG for consideration.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

In his Closing the Gap speech in parliament on Wednesday, the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, pointed towards the promising new partnership with First Nations people and said the government must remain positive.

“We must be careful not to adopt a deficit mindset.”

Mr Morrison criticised the targets themselves, and said there are "shortcomings" in the process as a whole that masked "real progress" and failed to build lasting partnerships with Indigenous communities.

"The targets don't celebrate the strengths, achievements and aspirations of Indigenous people," he said.

“They don’t tell you what’s happening on the ground, or stirring under it. They don’t tell you how realistic or achievable these targets were in the first place. They reinforce the language of failing and falling short and they mask the real progress that has been made.”

In his response, Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, put the onus back on those in charge.

“The problem was not that the targets were too ambitious," said Mr Albanese.

“They were not. They were modest. The failure to meet the target is our failure, not theirs.”

cashless welfare card

Both the Opposition and the Australian Greens condemned the Close the Gap failings, putting the lack of progress down to "discriminatory policies" by the government.

Senator for the Northern Territory, Malarndirri McCarthy, said the Coalition needed to connect the dots.

“When we look at policies like the cashless debit card, which entrenches First Nation people in poverty in this country, then of course we are not going to see the outcomes that we want to see in health, in education, in housing, in life expectancy,” she said.

Ms McCarthy also drew a correlation between the Closing the Gap results and the government’s decision to pursue a ‘voice to government,’ rather than an Indigenous advisory body entrenched in the constitution.

Greens Senator, Rachel Siewert, echoed those sentiments.

“This comes as no surprise,” she said.

“You're seeing by successive governments discriminatory policies such as the Northern Territory Intervention, such as the cashless debit card, such as the community development program,”

“Until government's get rid of these discriminatory policies, until they address the social determinants of health and well-being - We are not going to be closing the gap,” said Ms Siewert.