Bridge the Gap

February 10, 2018

caption: Paul Briggs said the upcoming Dangala Kaeila Oration and Economic Roundtable aim to promote Aboriginal social and economic development and inclusion.

Two prominent Shepparton indigenous identities have slammed the Federal Government’s treatment of its Closing the Gap policy, 10 years after it was first launched.

Health, education, employment, housing and social outcomes for the nation’s indigenous people have been placed on the backburner, as successive governments have struggled with leadership spills and constant changes in ministers and funding allocations, according to a review.

In a review, the Close the Gap Steering Committee, a coalition of non-government organisations, said a renewed commitment to ending inequality was needed.

‘‘A revolving door of prime ministers, indigenous affairs ministers and senior bureaucrats have all but halted the steady progress hoped for by First Peoples,’’ the committee’s review said.

‘‘After the initial funding commitments made for the Closing the Gap strategy ... the strategy was effectively abandoned with the extensive cuts, over $530million, made to the indigenous affairs portfolio in the 2014 federal budget.’’

In a report last year, it was found that only one of seven key measures was on track, and Shepparton’s Kaiela Institute executive director Paul Briggs said he was not surprised by the statistic.

Mr Briggs supported claims the Federal Government had abandoned key Closing the Gap policies, and that there was little structure around necessary strategies to improve outcomes.

‘‘There continues to be a long debate around the value of the constitution acknowledging the rights of indigenous people, around changing the date of Australia Day, there is a lack of proper governance structures that give Aboriginal people a voice at a national, state and regional level and we are largely responding to crisis in Aboriginal communities and running intervention programs that are not designed to inspire change,’’ Mr Briggs said.

‘‘We need infrastructure and governance structures that are interwoven into the economic and social frameworks of society, so that it doesn’t become a fringe body that is subject to intervention.’’

Rumbalara acting chief executive Justin Mohamed echoed similar sentiments.

He said if any change were to occur, national, state and local governments, as well as the wider community, needed to step up.

‘‘To get to 10 years and see how little we have achieved, you can’t say anything more than it is disappointing,’’ Mr Mohamed said.

‘‘Opportunities have been lost, we’re asking why this hasn’t been addressed, there was too much red tape and bureaucracy got in the way of things on the ground.’’

Close the Gap Campaign co-chair and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar said the strategy had failed to deliver and required urgent action.

‘‘We want to see premiers, chief ministers, health and indigenous affairs ministers in every jurisdiction providing regular, public accountability on their efforts to address the inequality gaps in their state or territory,’’ Ms Oscar said.

More than 50 indigenous leaders met with government representatives in Canberra on Tuesday to discuss the report’s findings.

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