Governments must improve engagements with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to ensure they are comprehensive and transparent, report finds


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Mainstream service delivery to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people must be reformed in order to combat systemic racism and foster cultural safety, according to a new report.

The report released on Wednesday presents the findings from extensive community engagements led by the Coalition of Peaks last year.

The engagements aimed to discover what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people believe should be included in the new national agreement on Closing the Gap.

A major finding was that new Closing the Gap targets would be needed, such as those relating to the preservation of culture and languages. Existing goals also must be developed, including expanding health targets to include mental health and suicide prevention.

The report highlighted the need to build on the national structure of the Coalition of Peaks by allowing for the development of similar state and territory-based bodies.

It also called on governments to improve their engagements with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people on changes to policies and programs to “ensure it is done fully and transparently”.

Other key findings related to three proposed priority reforms which aim to:

  1. Develop and strengthen structures to ensure the full involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in shared decision making, embedding their ownership, responsibility, and expertise to Close the Gap,
  2. Build formal Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled service sectors to deliver Closing the Gap services and programs,
  3. Ensure all mainstream government agencies and institutions that service Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities undertake systemic and structural transformation to contribute to Closing the Gap.

The reforms were “overwhelmingly supported” during the engagements, according to the report. A fourth reform was also proposed, regarding shared access to data and information to support decision making by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and governments.

One crucial way of achieving the first priority reform would be to establish and maintain formal partnerships — such as written agreements — between governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the report found. Such partnerships would be needed at a national, state and territory, regional, and local level.

In response to priority reform two, key areas for bolstering formal community-controlled service sectors included housing, aged care, and disability support.

Finally, priority reform three would require mainstream service delivery to be “reformed to address systemic racism and promote cultural safety”, while increasing accountability.


Read more: New Closing the Gap agreement due mid 2020


During the engagement process, nearly 1700 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people responded to an online survey, while more than 2300 individuals attended roughly 70 face-to-face meetings across cities, regional towns, and remote communities in every state and territory.

The process was a new way of working between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and Australian governments as it put the voices of communities at the centre, according to Coalition of Peaks lead convener and NACCHO CEO Pat Turner.

“This community engagement report highlights the conviction of the Coalition of Peaks that, if Australia is to truly Close the Gap in life outcomes between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians, there needs to be a new way of working established between us and governments,” she said.

“Engagement processes with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people like this one rarely take place in Australia. I am proud to say the engagements led by the Coalition of Peaks in partnership with Australian governments, implemented this ground-breaking and historic approach.”

The national agreement is being negotiated between the Coalition of Peaks and Australian governments, and is expected to be released publicly before the end of July.

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