New Closing the Gap agreement due mid 2020

By Shannon Jenkins

January 17, 2020

Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt poses for a photo with Kaurna Country performers at the meeting of the Joint Council on Closing the Gap at Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute, Adelaide, Friday, August 23, 2019. AAP/David Mariuz

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia have had their say on a new national agreement on Closing the Gap.

The Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Organisations (Coalition of Peaks) has been working with the Council of Australian Governments to develop the 10-year agreement.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, communities and organisations were engaged from September to December 2019 to give feedback on the agreement as well as the Coalition of Peaks’ proposed priority reforms.

The reforms included developing formal partnerships between government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people on Closing the Gap, growing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled services, and improving mainstream service delivery.

More than 2300 people attended nearly 70 face-to face meetings in cities, regional towns and remote communities, while an online survey received nearly 1700 responses. A recently released summary of the engagement process has shown that more than 90% of survey respondents supported the reform priorities, with similar feedback from the meetings.

Respondents indicated that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities must be able to choose their own representatives to negotiate with governments, and government partnerships must be strong and inclusive to empower community-led outcomes.

Decisions about policy and programs should support self-determination, as well as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge, and lived experiences, the engagements found.

Respondents also noted that community-controlled organisations are more effective than mainstream organisations because they provide a holistic and culturally appropriate approach, but they lack funding, and need a more reliable and consistent funding model. Mainstream organisations, on the other hand, must recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the experts, should collaborate more with their organisations, and should appoint more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to positions at all levels of seniority.

The process found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people must have the same data as governments in order to make informed decisions on Closing the Gap policies. Following the engagements, the Coalition of Peaks has proposed access to local data as a fourth reform priority.


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


Closing the Gap draft targets were agreed on by the government in 2018. While community feedback showed support for the general areas chosen, there was input on some of the wording, outcomes, measures and focus.

One participant from Broome said that “rather than ‘closing the gap’, governments should ‘open the gate’ to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in making decisions that affect their lives”.

Coalition of Peaks convener and NACCHO CEO Pat Turner said participants and survey respondents had spoken with “one clear voice”.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities know what works for them and have charted a clear way forward for the new national agreement on Closing the Gap,” she said.

“It was essential to the Coalition of Peaks that our communities were engaged in the development of the next Closing the Gap agreement from the beginning. The Coalition of Peaks has listened and is now working so that governments also hear your voice and put the priority reforms at the heart of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap.”

A comprehensive report on the engagements will be released in the coming months. The Coalition of Peaks has been working with Australian governments on how the outcomes of the engagements could be reflected in the new national agreement, with the agreement expected to be finalised in mid 2020.

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