• Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt and Coalition of Peaks lead convener Pat Turner. (AAP)Source: AAP
Peak bodies have signed off on 16 'refreshed' Closing the Gap targets, which the Minister for Indigenous Australians has called 'ambitious', but not everyone is convinced the targets will be enough to make a difference.
Keira Jenkins

4 Jul 2020 - 3:16 PM  UPDATED 4 Jul 2020 - 3:16 PM

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak bodies have signed off on 16 ‘refreshed’ Closing the Gap targets.

These targets cover issues such as education, employment, health and wellbeing, justice, safety, housing, land and waters, and languages

The details of the targets won’t be released until Prime Minister Scott Morrison and state and territory leaders sign off on them at a national cabinet meeting on July 10.

The Joint Council for the Closing the Gap refresh met on Friday afternoon, to consider a National Agreement, drafted by the Coalition of Peaks and Australian Governments.

It is the first such agreement developed and negotiated with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

CEO of NACCHO and co-chair of the Joint Council Pat Turner said the agreement is a real ‘game-changer’.

“We are making history,” she said.

“I’m proud to say that we are in the home stretch of bringing this historic National Agreement to light.”

Ms Turner said while not everything Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people want is in the agreement, she believes it has potential to make much needed change.

“This new national agreement has the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of our people and has the potential to establish a strong policy foundation to finally give effect to what our people have been saying is needed, for a long time, to close the gaps,” she said.

Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt said the agreement sets new priority reforms and ‘ambitious targets’.

“It will change the way in which we all work together to improve life outcomes for Indigenous Australians, for the next decade or more,” he said in a statement.

“Yes, the targets are ambitious but - for the first time - accountability is shared between all parties.

“Endorsing the new agreement is just the beginning.More effective interventions and better service delivery will be needed. We need to develop these in partnership.”

Senior advocate for foreign prison support Martin Hodgson said the new targets could not be considered ‘ambitious’ if the justice target remained at achieving parity in incarceration rates by 2093, or even if they are reined in.

“There is lethality in low expectations,” he said.

“Whether the goal is to have parity by 2093 or by 2050, in that time there will be more lives lost.

“If we were talking about HIV rates, and anyone suggested we should aim to reach parity on Indigenous HIV rates by 2093, they would be told that’s not enough, and probably pushed out of their job.

“It’s not enough to say we’ll reach parity in decades or generations. Either get it done, and get it done now, because we know what we have to do, or get out of the job.”

'More lives lost'

Pat Turner said that it is not the targets that drive change, and targets could be achieved earlier than any date set.

“Expected parity dates are not fixed dates,” she said.

“If governments implement the priority reforms in full and invest in the outcome areas of health, education, employment and housing, parity will be achieved earlier.”

Mr Hodgson said peak organisations should consider whether working with governments is the best way to get the best outcomes for Indigenous people.

“In that time there will be more lives lost and more lives ruined by doing nothing about imprisonment rates,” he said.

“Not only should the Minister consider if he is fit for the job if he thinks that is ‘ambitious’, because anyone else who was overseeing such a failure would lose their job.

“Peak Indigenous organisations should also consider whether working with governments is achieving anything at all or whether they will refuse to meet with a Minister who sees this failure as ‘ambitious’.

“It is not acceptable that Aboriginal people will continue to suffer and die in prison.”

The Joint Council also agreed on four areas of ‘priority reforms’ - ensuring the full involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in shared decision making at all levels; building the Aboriginal community controlled services to deliver closing the gap programs; ensuring government and mainstream agencies undertake systemic and structural transformation; and ensuring Indigenous people have access to data to monitor the implementation of these priority reforms and the closing the gap targets.

The draft National Agreement will now be referred to the National Cabinet for approval on July 10.