• Pat Turner, Convener of the Coalition of Peaks (AAP Image/Dan Peled) (AAP)Source: AAP
New target suggestions, including mental health and the preservation of culture and languages, were part of more than 4,000 responses to the Close the Gap refresh.
Shahni Wellington

24 Jun 2020 - 2:23 PM  UPDATED 25 Jun 2020 - 2:03 PM

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have had their say on the federal government's proposed Closing the Gap National Agreement.

A report compiling more than 4,000 responses has been produced by the Coalition of Peaks, a body made up of more than 50 community-controlled peak organisations, that is working with the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) on a Closing the Gap (CTG) 'refresh'.

Engaging the community for feedback was an effort to prevent yet another failed report in reducing the disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, after the 2019-2020 findings showed just two of seven goals are on track - Pre-school education and Year 12 attainment.

Head of the Coalition of Peaks and National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation’s (NACCHO) chief executive, Pat Turner, said the voices of communities is key to developing the new National Agreement.

“This community engagement report highlights the conviction of the Coalition of Peaks that, if Australia is to truly Close the Gap in life outcomes between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians, there needs to be a new way of working established between us and governments,” Ms Turner said.

The results found widespread support for three priority reforms, including ensuring Aboriginal people are embedded in the decision-making process, building community-controlled services for program delivery, and systemic and structural transformation for mainstream government agencies.

A fourth priority reform also emerged, focusing on shared access to and use of data and information.

New targets needed

The community engagement process involved an online survey and more than 70 face-to-face meetings held in cities, regional towns and remote communities in every state and territory. 

While a large majority of responses supported the proposed reforms and priorities, new targets and amendments dominated the feedback. 

More than 25% of respondents to the online survey who agreed to the draft targets also suggested changes.

Many respondents wanted to expand the health targets to be "more holistic" and include mental health and suicide, and others also suggested including new targets for the preservation of culture and languages.

Indigenous incarceration targets were also suggested, and an overwhelming suggestion to scrap the inclusion of the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) as a target or indicator of outcomes relating to education.

A target relating to culture and language was discussed in the report, as many identified a connection to culture as being intrinsic to improvement in all areas. 

Some responses read:

Culture needs to be embedded across every action, every priority (meeting report, Cairns Qld)

There needs to be a target relating to the protection of cultural practices, items, places and such like. (meeting report, Tas)

… a new outcome area is required in the Closing the Gap agenda around Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) culture, for example: ‘ATSI people achieve empowerment and self-determination grounded in a human rights based agenda’; and measure: ‘ATSI people should be able to maintain or reconnect to their culture, and where dislocation access to healing services or programs’. (meeting report, Perth, WA)

It was noted that none of the targets drafted by the COAG relate to culture, language and communication and that this is a vital addition required (meeting report, FNMA).

The new National Agreement is expected to be finalised before the end of next month.