Malcolm Turnbull has given an upbeat assessment, but conceded that more needs to be done to build the trust between his government and First Nations.
His comments follow the latest Close the Gap results that show only two out of seven targets are on track to be met.
Speaking at the annual Close the Gap breakfast in Parliament House, it was the Prime Minister’s first chance to show what he has planned to reduce the disadvantage facing Indigenous people.
The Close the Gap Steering Committee has written that the Government needs to take some radical steps to accelerate progress in closing the gap.
Prime Minister ‘hopeful’
“While the results against the targets are mixed, there have been significant gains over recent times, and we can be hopeful for the future,” the Prime Minister told the breakfast meeting of politicians and Indigenous leaders and advocates.
In a small concession that the relationships between many Indigenous organisations and the Federal Government has deteriorated over the last three years, Mr Turnbull said more needed to be done to empower Indigenous people.
“We have to redouble our efforts to ensure effective engagement between the government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to build trust, and develop further that respectful relationship,” he said.
There has been significant criticism from Aboriginal health, education and community groups that government policies are too uniform and ‘big stick’ to be effective.
Malcolm Turnbull said he has been hearing the criticisms since he became Prime Minister last September.
“We must ensure our policies and programs offer a place-based approach to reflect that diversity. This is not a case of one size fits all.”
Election year pledges
Both the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader made election pledges for Indigenous people and programs.
Malcolm Turnbull announced $20 million would be given to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in Canberra.
The research institute is tasked with preserving significant Indigenous cultural items including films, artefacts, books and documents. It is in the process of digitising its collection for future generations.
While the Prime Minister acknowledged the significant Indigenous prison population, he made no mention of the Close the Gap campaigns recommendation that a justice target be introduced.
Bill Shorten also used his address to make a number of election commitments to Indigenous people.
They include a multi-million dollar commitment to fighting trachoma in remote communities, attracting more Indigenous politicians to Parliament, introducing a justice target, and recognising Indigenous people in the Constitution by 2017.
“May 2017, the fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 referendum, would be an auspicious time for a national vote on recognition, and a Labor Government will deliver a referendum then,” he told the chamber.
The Labor Party has also committed to eliminating trachoma in Australia by 2020.
Neither party spoke about sovereignty issues.