The Greens and the NSW Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC) have said the Australian government needs to put teeth into its Close the Gap policy if it is to have any significant affect.
The NSWALC believes federal and state governments need to ‘close the knowledge gap’ and directly involve Aboriginal people in decision-making if they are serious about closing the gap on disadvantage.
NSWALC Chair Roy Ah-See welcomed prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s continued commitment to ‘closing the gap’ but warned progress would only be achieved by increasing Aboriginal participation in decision-making.
The Aboriginal-led Close the Gap Steering Committee has made nine detailed recommendations to Government about how the Closing the Gap strategy can be improved. These include the adoption of targets to reduce imprisonment and violence, improvements in data collection, more action on mental health and increased funding to tackle smoking.
‘NSWALC urges the Government to act on what the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experts in the field are telling it and adopt the Close the Gap Committee’s recommendations.
‘Aboriginal people must be front and centre of any efforts to close the gap. Policy-makers need to understand the drivers of disadvantage and work in genuine long-term partnership with Aboriginal people to tackle the causes.
‘If you don’t listen to and involve Aboriginal organisations, efforts to close the gap will not work – you’ll only be playing with the lives of Aboriginal people.’
Cr Ah-See cautioned against abandoning the national effort to Close the Gap because of slow progress.
‘This is a generational challenge and we have to keep up the fight – particularly when the going gets tough.
‘Government policy makers need to close the knowledge gap if they are serious about making lasting inroads to tackle disadvantage among Aboriginal people in Australia.’
Cr Ah-See said the Land Rights network was heartened by prime minister Turnbull’s decision to visit a Local Aboriginal Land Council last month.
Targets essential: Greens
Meanwhile Greens spokesperson for Aboriginal Affairs Jan Barham has called on the premier ‘to establish clear NSW targets and report across all key areas of inequality so that his government and future governments can be held accountable.’
‘Working with Aboriginal communities to ensure they have the services and opportunities required to address inequality in health and wellbeing is a responsibility of every government, particularly in light of historical wrongdoings,’ Ms Barham said.
‘Today’s release of the prime minister’s Closing the Gap report shows the lack of national progress on addressing the disparity in life expectancy and employment outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.’
Ms Barham noted that there are ‘significant areas of inequality and disadvantage that aren’t addressed by the national targets’.
‘The Close the Gap Steering Committee’s report on Progress and Priorities 2016 recommends targets to address imprisonment rates and community safety, as well as the exacerbated disadvantage experienced by Aboriginal people with disability, education and employment.
‘New South Wales should establish targets to address the full range of causes and indicators of Aboriginal disadvantage and inequality, including incarceration rates, rates of child abuse, neglect and removal, disability, mental health and suicide.
Ms Barham noted that the NSW Government had introduced some welcome initiatives in Aboriginal Affairs but that greater engagement with Aboriginal communities and self-determination in addressing needs was required.
‘I’ve worked with this government to support a range of initiatives that aim to provide opportunity and self-determination to Aboriginal communities, including through the new OCHRE strategy and ensuring Aboriginal land rights are respected and delivered.
‘All politicians and parties must support giving priority to working with Aboriginal communities to address the ongoing inequality and lack of opportunity they experience, and I call on the Premier to make it a priority to close all of the gaps in New South Wales,’ Ms Barham said.