New Closing the Gap targets aim to up number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages spoken, reduce incarceration and suicide rates

By Shannon Jenkins

Thursday July 30, 2020

Australian Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt (left) and Senior Advisor on the design of the Indigenous voice to government Pat Turner listen to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speak to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, July 30, 2020. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

All state and territory governments have signed up to the targets set out by the historic National Agreement on Closing the Gap.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt, and Coalition of Peaks convenor Pat Turner launched the agreement on Thursday, more than a decade after the previous Closing the Gap targets were set.

The new agreement has 16 national socio-economic targets across areas that have an impact on life outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It’s the first time that the targets focus on issues such as suicide, language, housing, justice, and out-of-home care.

The targets state that by 2031, Australia should increase the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander:

  • Babies with a healthy birthweight to 91%,
  • Children assessed as developmentally on track in all five domains of the Australian Early Development Census to 55%
  • People aged 20-24 attaining year 12 or equivalent qualification to 96%,
  • People aged 25-34 years who have completed a tertiary qualification (Certificate III and above) to 70%,
  • Youth aged 15-24 years who are in employment, education or training to 67%,
  • People aged 25-64 who are employed to 62%,
  • People living in appropriately sized (not overcrowded) housing to 88%.

By 2031, Australia should reduce the rate of:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults held in incarceration by at least 15%,
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people (10-17 years) in detention by 30%,
  • Over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care by 45%.

Also by 2031, Australia must Close the Gap in life expectancy within a generation, and have a sustained increase in number and strength of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages being spoken.

We should also see a 15% increase in Australia’s landmass subject to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s legal rights or interests by 2030, as well as a 15% increase in areas covered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s legal rights or interests in the sea.

Two targets aim for a “significant and sustained reduction” in violence and abuse against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children towards zero, and in suicide of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people towards zero.

The final target plans to increase the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children enrolled in Year Before Fulltime Schooling early childhood education to 95% by 2025.


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


When asked why domestic violence was not addressed by the targets, Wyatt said more work was needed.

“In dealing with this issue we want zero tolerance of any domestic violence, of violence against women. I know that when the working group was going through this, the focus on just physical violence against women was seen as not sufficient,” he said.

“But our senior women have asked that we do more work on that and I respect the request that they have made, and we will come back with further work. But the target is still zero tolerance of domestic violence against our women.”

All state and territory governments have signed up to the 16 targets, with their progress to be monitored by the Productivity Commission.

The new agreement builds on the 2008 framework led by the Rudd government, which was “an entirely worthy initiative”, Morrison said.

However, he noted there were “elements of how that was done which was misguided”, including that it lacked Indigenous involvement.

“One of the mistakes that have been made is, as we’ve looked at this as a federal government, we’ve decided what the gap is. We didn’t look at the gap through the eyes of Indigenous Australians. We told Indigenous Australians what the gap was that we were going to close. And somehow thought they should be thankful for that,” he said.

“That was wrong-headed. That wasn’t the way to do it. We needed to understand what the gap was, looking through the lens and the eyes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. They needed to tell us what the gap was that needed to be closed. And that’s what this task has been about.”

Turner said the voices of more than 4000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were heard during the engagements on the new national agreement.

“The Coalition of Peaks is confident that the national agreement, if fully implemented, has the potential to establish a strong policy foundation to give effect to what our people have been saying for a long time is needed to make a difference,” she said.

“The national agreement may not include everything our people want or need to make lasting change to our lives, but this is a huge step forward.”

Following the launch of the agreement, Victorian Aboriginal affairs minister Gabrielle Williams announced the state government would provide $3.3 million over four years to support Aboriginal community-controlled organisations and “put them at the heart of reform work”.

“Our collective track record on Closing the Gap falls short of expectations – it’s time we did something different,” she said.

“For the first time, Aboriginal community-controlled organisations will be empowered to take a leadership role in driving change through the Closing the Gap strategy, by implementing reform and setting a new standard for improving outcomes for all Aboriginal people.”

Williams’ New South Wales counterpart, Don Harwin, said Aboriginal Affairs NSW would work closely with the NSW Coalition of Aboriginal Peak Organisations, NSW government agencies and other parties to develop a Jurisdictional Implementation Plan for the agreement by July 2021.

“After wide consultation with community, I am confident that the four priority reforms, revised targets and accountability mechanisms laid out in the agreement will drive down the gap in life outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians,” he said.

“I’m proud to see that many of the aspects of the Agreement are already in play in NSW, such as procurement initiatives and a strong Aboriginal community controlled sector that will drive social outcomes, economic development and employment. I also acknowledge that many of the ambitions of the agreement cannot be met through business as usual and will require significant change.

“I am positive that this agreement is a step in the right direction that will drive generational change and empowerment for Aboriginal communities across the state.”


Read more: Wyatt signals new approach to Closing the Gap


 

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