Closing the Gap: A new partnership

The latest Closing the Gap Report shows that only two out of seven targets to improve Indigenous employment, health and education have been achieved. Carissa Lee Godwin, Editor of the Analysis and Policy Observatory’s First Peoples & Public Policy Collection, explores why these targets were unmet, and how a new proposed collaboration between the Government and the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Organisations (Coalition of Peaks) will assist with closing these gaps.

Since 2009, the Closing the Gap series has been reporting on target-based approaches to address disadvantages in Indigenous communities. The series has focussed on health, education and employment. The Closing the Gap: report 2020 shows that most targets were not met by the 2018 deadline. Key areas of concern remain, including: child mortality rates, life expectancy rates, and gaps in education and employment.

With the majority of Closing the Gap targets not being achieved, the Federal Government has made significant changes to the way it will be approaching future targets. The new approach involves partnering with First Nations peoples, enabling more community control and shared decision-making with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

A new partnership with the Coalition of Peaks has been established to review the design of policies and programs which impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The Coalition of Peaks is a representative body of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled peak organisations.

Key report findings

Although the majority of Closing the Gap targets were not achieved, there were improvements in some key areas:

  1. The targets of having “95 percent of Indigenous four-year-olds enrolled in early childhood education by 2025” and to “halve the gap for Indigenous Australians aged 20–24 in Year 12 attainment or equivalent by 2020” are on track to being achieved (see page 11 of the report).
  2. There has been some progress in maternal and child health, as well as in mortality rates, but the report states that these were not strong enough to meet the intended target to “halve the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous children under five (by 2018)” (page 15).
  3. There has been an improvement in the foundational skills of reading, writing and numeracy for Indigenous children, but more progress is required to meet the target to “halve the gap for Indigenous children in reading, writing and numeracy within a decade (by 2018)” (page 45).

Closing the Gap together

In the report’s foreword, Prime Minister Scott Morrison makes the following commitments in the lead up to the next Closing the Gap report (due May 2020) (page 4):

  1. Commitment to a “true partnership” that embraces the “expertise of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, guiding local action and local change”.
  2. Ensuring that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people “have better access to high-quality services, including building community-controlled sectors”.
  3. Investment in “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led data to support decision-making at a local level” to provide the data needed for ongoing improvements and to measure progress.

The report states that although not all targets have been met, working together with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in decision-making with the next Closing the Gap framework “can accelerate progress and achieve better outcomes” (page 8-9).

With the Government now working alongside the Coalition of Peaks, local communities have more support to set their own priorities and determine what they need when designing policies and programs for their respective communities: “This means shared accountability and jointly developing an agreed framework and new targets” (page 6).

This formal partnership is a pivotal moment for the Government and First Nations peoples. In a positive move, the Government has sought agreement from the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) towards a new way of working to meet the targets, and to potentially set new targets that benefit First Nations peoples. It provides a great opportunity to ensure that First Nations peoples can decide how best to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders achieve their goals, and maintain healthy lives, in a new stage of self-determination.

About the First Peoples & Public Policy Collection

As part of its mission to improve Indigenous policy in Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand, the Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG)  is working to increase knowledge of Indigenous culture and history. One way that is is being achieved is through the support of the APO  First Peoples & Public Policy Collection, launched at the ANZSOG Reimagining Public Administration conference in February 2019.

The First Peoples & Public Policy Collection is curated from a broad selection of key Indigenous policy topics, and provides a valuable resource on Indigenous affairs, with a focus on diverse Indigenous voices.