Since the introduction of the Closing the Gap reports 10 years ago, we are only on track with one target out of seven – educational attainment.
Each year Close the Gap Day raises awareness about the gap in life expectancy and health between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and the rest of the Australian population. Clearly, 10 years on, we are still far behind where we need to be.
The Closing the Gap report 2018 highlights the ongoing, disproportionate disadvantage that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders experience. They are over-represented in our child protection and youth and adult justice systems. They also experience family violence at higher rates than the rest of the Australian population.
This is simply unacceptable.
At present, monitoring of the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the child protection, youth justice, adult justice systems and their high rate of family violence are not targets included in the Closing the Gap reports.
Jesuit Social Services has also supported calls from Change the Record and the Human Rights Law Council to introduce justice targets as part of the Closing the Gap annual reports. The over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in our youth and adult justice systems is appalling, representing 27% of the prison population and only 2% of the Australian population. Introducing a justice target would ensure state, territory and federal governments focus their attention on keeping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples out of the justice system and address the underlying causes of offending.
The impact of colonisation, discrimination and harmful government policies had seen Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples deeply affected by grief, loss and intergenerational trauma. This has underpinned their experience of disadvantage.
The Federal Government has recognised that these targets are failing to be met and a new strategy needs to be put in place, through the current Closing the Gap Refresh.
A new approach needs to place Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the driver’s seat of policy and programs that affect them. They are best placed to know what makes their communities thrive, how to be connected to culture, which makes them strong, and connected to each other.
This means reforming systems and processes to embed Aboriginal culture and decision-making, such as the Koori Court system in Victoria. It means ensuring Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations deliver programs and services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. It means empowering local decision making through processes that are led by local community leaders and hear local community voices.
In 2017, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders united to create the landmark Uluru Statement calling for:
- The establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution
- A Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agree-making between governments and First Nations
- Truth-telling about our history, led by the Makarrata Commission
Unfortunately, the Federal Government’s quick dismissal of this opportunity fails to recognise the importance of Aboriginal self-determination and empowerment in addressing the gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the rest of the Australian population.
While some progress has been made across the country, we still have a long way to in closing gap, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples need to lead the way.