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Closing the Gap: Indigenous groups to share decision-making under new agreement

A partnership agreement between a coalition of Indigenous peak bodies and state and federal governments will, for the first time, give Indigenous groups a direct say in the design, implementation and monitoring of Closing the Gap.

“The historic partnership agreement means that for the first time Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, through their peak bodies, will share decision making with governments on Closing the Gap,” said National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation CEO Pat Turner, on behalf of the coalition of around 40 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak bodies.

“Closing the gap is not just about targets and programs. It is about making sure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples can share in the decision making about policies and programs that impact on them and have a real say over their own lives,” said Turner.

“The partnership agreement is a significant step forward in this direction, and the coalition of peaks is looking forward to working closely with the Council of Australian Governments to honour our shared commitment to closing the gap.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the partnership agreement would ensure decision makers worked closer than ever to deliver real change for Indigenous people.

“The Closing the Gap Partnership Agreement will focus all of our efforts to deliver better health, education and employment outcomes for Indigenous Australians,” he said.

“It recognises that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples must play an integral part in making the decisions that affect their lives. This agreement will put Indigenous peoples at the heart of the development and implementation of the next phase of Closing the Gap, embedding shared decision making and accountability at the centre of the way we do business.

“In order to effect real change, governments must work collaboratively and in genuine, formal partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples because they are the essential agents of change. The change we all want to see will only come if we work together.”

The agreement sets out how Indigenous groups and governments will work together to agree on a refreshed Closing the Gap agreement, including any new targets or implementation and monitoring arrangements. The framework and targets will be finalised through a joint council including ministers and representatives of Indigenous peaks organisations by mid-2019, ahead of endorsement by COAG. The joint council is to be co-chaired by a minister and a representative of the coalition of peak bodies.

The first meeting of the joint council was held in Brisbane on Wednesday.

This is the first time Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives and ministerial leaders have met formally as part of a joint council to progress the Closing the Gap agenda, said Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion.

“To support this historic partnership, we will deliver $4.6 million to the National Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Organisations to ensure the representatives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are able to engage and negotiate as equal partners with governments to design and monitor Closing the Gap,” he stated.

“This is a new way of doing business that reflects that the top-down approach established in 2008, while well-intentioned, did not truly seek to partner with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Australians. We enter this partnership recognising that Canberra cannot change it all and that we need more than lofty goals and bureaucratic targets.

“Finalising the refresh of the Closing the Gap framework and monitoring its implementation over the next ten years is critical to the future and prosperity of all Australians.

“We are committed to working closely with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across Australia to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians.”

Author Bio

David Donaldson

David Donaldson is a journalist at The Mandarin based in Melbourne.