This year’s Closing the Gap Report is an opportunity to reflect on a decade’s efforts under an ambitious framework aimed at improving outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.
While progress has been made over the past decade, only two of the ambitious targets are on track. It shows we need to change the way we work.
I believe that the progress needed can only be accelerated through a deeper partnership with the states and territories and with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Top-down does not work, only partnerships do.
This is why, two years ago, we embarked on the Closing the Gap Refresh. Ten years of the Closing the Gap implementation provides an important opportunity to reflect on what has worked and what has not. There have been shortfalls in both the implementation and leadership of the Closing the Gap agenda. In 2019, we want to try something new, to change the way we work as governments – to work in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.
In early December 2018, a Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians made representation to me. They came to me seeking a partnership, one that shared decision making on how future policies are developed, especially at a regional or local level.
On 12 December 2018, I met with COAG First Ministers and together we agreed to form a partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives. This is the partnership the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians asked for. In listening to this group I realised that for Closing the Gap to be successful, we must change the way we work and work together. This partnership provides a platform for genuine collaboration as we agree how to move forward.
Since the initiation of Closing the Gap in 2008, each successive Prime Minister has delivered a report on outcomes and efforts by the Australian Government. Each year, the Prime Minister has delivered the message that the targets are not on track. There are many reasons for this, which inform our future approach. We know that beneath this story are examples of improvement and progress – more children are staying in school for longer and achieving year 12 qualifications. This education sets them up for better employment opportunities.
This report of 2019 marks the final report against the Closing the Gap framework established in 2008 and a transition to the commitment of all Australian governments to do things differently.
As we move into this next phase, Closing the Gap will be embraced as a whole of government agenda with all governments sharing accountability for progress and extending this shared accountability to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
We should not let our failure to meet targets overshadow the successful, thriving lives of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Australians and the great work that many in our communities have been doing to improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses are growing, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are in meaningful jobs and doing well in our economy and the next generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are accessing education from early childhood to university. We should however embrace the requirement to change, we simply will not succeed by continuing to work in the same way.
The main area of change needs to be in how governments approach implementation of policies and delivery of services. Stronger accountability can be achieved through co-designed action plans that link targets to policy action, funding decisions, and regular evaluations. This provides transparency for how we expect to achieve each target and by when.
We know that Closing the Gap is foundational to building a fairer, stronger and connected Australia. It is equally important to recognise and celebrate Australia as the home of the longest living civilisation on earth, and acknowledge that the cultures of our First Nations peoples enrich us all.
The Australian Government is committed to working in genuine partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, a partnership which is critical to progress towards Closing the Gap.
The Hon. Scott Morrison MP
Prime Minister of Australia