Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups have sat down with state, territory and Commonwealth ministers, for the first time, to work on Closing the Gap.
Under a ten-year agreement, Indigenous peak bodies will share ownership and accountability to deliver real, substantive change for Indigenous Australians.
The partnership marks an historic turning point for the Closing the Gap strategy, which for the past eleven years has seen dismal results in delivering better outcomes for Indigenous Australians.
Last year, just two of the seven targets were on track to being met.
“[It’s] the first time ever that COAG has Aboriginal people as equal partners at the table negotiating how we work over the next decade to Close the Gap for our people,” said National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) chief executive, Pat Turner.
“We’re at a crossroads, and we’ve decided to take up our rightful role,” she told NITV News.
Representatives of around 40 Indigenous peak bodies, making up a ‘coalition of peaks’ will co-chair a new joint council alongside ministers.
Ms Turner and Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion co-convened the first meeting in Brisbane on Wednesday.
“I want our people living in safe, secure housing. I want them to have access to community-controlled health services no matter where they live. I want our people to have the best access to all education services, and I want our people to generally have the same opportunities as other Australians,” Ms Turner said.
“I want our people to have full-time jobs. We’ve got to scrap the negative issues that we have deal with every day. We have to take a strengths-based approach and we have to make sure that we are getting our people out of poverty.”
The Morrison government is committing $4.6million over three years to fund the coalition’s secretariat work, and additional funding is expected in next Tuesday’s budget for the Closing the Gap refresh framework.
But Ms Turner warns the new coalition is not a substitute for an ‘Indigenous voice to the parliament.’
“Our focus is on the Close the Gap. We in no way are the ‘voice’ – that is a process that still has to be settled by the incoming government at the federal level,” she said.
The framework will undergo Indigenous-led evaluations every three years.
Details of new targets are expected to be revealed in mid-2019 but Indigenous groups have already flagged key areas of concern.
“We've got too many people in juvenile justice, we've got too many children being removed from their families, we've got so much family violence, drug and alcohol abuse. And all those issues, this Closing the Gap can do something about,” said Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation chief executive, Muriel Bamblett.
Ms Bamblett told NITV she hopes the new agreement will bring about real outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people on the ground.
“We're tired of going to the table and saying this is wrong ... We know we've got the answers.”
Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory chief executive, John Paterson, said the agreement also means Indigenous groups are just as accountable as governments.
“If we're stepping up to this level than we have to take on the responsibility and be prepared to work extensively to achieve the outcomes we're all aspiring to, and if there are changes along the way, then so be it. The buck will stop with us.”