New ‘Closing the Gap’ report finds Australia failing to meet targets

A new report says without significant intervention, Australian governments are at risk of failing to meet the ‘Closing the Gap’ targets.
Funeral insurance provider targeted First Nations people.

A new report says without significant intervention, Australian governments are at risk of failing to meet the ‘Closing the Gap’ targets.

The Productivity Commission findings called current efforts to improve outcomes for First Nations people “weak”.

The Commission has reviewed a 2020 agreement by the Federal, state, territory, and local governments to introduce measures to close the gap between First Nations people and non-Indigenous Australians.

Closing the Gap

Targets “to overcome the entrenched inequality” faced by First Nations people, “so that their life outcomes are equal to those of all Australians” were first adopted in 2008.

These targets were refreshed in 2020 when the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Organisations, with all levels of government, signed a new agreement to address inequalities.

The Productivity Commission was asked to review the agreement’s overall progress every three years. Its first review was published this week.

Findings of failure

Despite “pockets of good practice”, the Commission found overall measures to improve First Nations outcomes have been “slow, uncoordinated and piecemeal”.

The review said lawmakers have “failed to fully grasp” the fundamental changes needed to address inequalities.

It pointed to a lack of strategy from multiple governments to explain how the goals set out in the 2020 agreement will be achieved.

The Closing the Gap review criticised governments for failing to consult with First Nations groups during the design phase of measures to close the gap.

It suggested this approach has slowed progress towards improving First Nations inequality.

The report said First Nations community-controlled organisations deliver better outcomes than governments in many areas.

Closing the Gap recommendations

The report recommended a “fundamental rethink” of systems used to address disadvantage.

This included a need for better consultation with First Nations community groups, and for governments to relinquish some control.

“Most critically, the Agreement requires government decision-makers to accept that they do not know what is best for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” it said.

The review said without large-scale changes, governments risked “another broken promise” to First Nations people.

“The agreement can and should be a blueprint for real reform, but governments will need to move beyond business as usual and address the entrenched attitudes, assumptions and ways of working that are preventing progress.”

The recommendations will now be considered by governments.

Federal Government response

Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney said action to address First Nations inequality has “not led to the change needed”.

“The entrenched inequality experienced by many Indigenous Australians is completely unacceptable,” she said.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the report was “a reminder” that governments “need to do better”.

On Tuesday, the Government will publish its annual Closing the Gap report, showing how individual targets progressed in 2023.

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