Indigenous Leaders 'Cynical' Over Close The Gap Consultation

10/02/2016 2:59 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Fairfax Media

CANBERRA -- Indigenous leaders have said they are "a little bit cynical" about Malcolm Turnbull's commitment to bring them in to help address indigenous inequality, as leaders react and respond to the Closing The Gap report tabled in parliament on Wednesday.

The report revealed how several key indicators on equality were not on track to be met by their established target dates, with "unacceptable" life expectancy and employment outcomes according to the Prime Minister. He affirmed his plans to bring indigenous leaders and voices to the centre of future plans.

"Today, as Prime Minister, I stand by the intent of that commitment. However, I will honour that commitment not by delivering to Indigenous Australians, but by working with a diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders and communities across Australia," he said.

However, indigenous leaders have said they are not jumping for joy just yet.

"Both leaders talked about this new relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the Prime Minister quoted extensively in saying, 'Do things with us not to us'. Bill Shorten said exactly the same thing. We have heard these words before, said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda.

"We take them with good heart but there's got to be a carrying-out of that new relationship so I think we're entitled to be a little bit cynical about it until it starts happening.

"We know that all the targets aren't on track but we go back to the way of getting those on track and getting the programs right to engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people."

Co-chair Jackie Huggins echoed Gooda's words.

"Certainly, we call upon the Government to have a re-engagement with us, a new relationship, and we've given that undertaking today in terms of the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader," she said.

"We look forward to starting a new chapter for our people because things cannot progress as they have over the decades. We feel that it's our generation now that has to close the gap, our generation that has that opportunity and given half the chance we'll be able to do that."

Labor's indigenous spokespersons -- Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs Shayne Neumann, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Indigenous Affairs Warren Snowdon, and Northern Territory Senator Nova Peris -- said in a statement that engagement with indigenous people was essential.

"Most importantly, we cannot Close the Gap without genuine, respectful engagement and partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The Government’s disastrous Indigenous Advancement Strategy has been defined by the lack of engagement and complete disconnection between Government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities," the trio said in their statement.

"It cannot continue."

The Australian Medical Association, too, said engagement was key.

"This is a clear signal that we have to put politics aside, and work together to reach this important milestone. We need a long-term, multi-partisan, whole-of-government approach to once and for all close the gap,” said AMA President, Professor Brian Owler.

"And there must be genuine engagement with Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services in the delivery of health services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples."

And while there have been calls to overhaul the Closing The Gap system and formula to better address indigenous outcomes, Oxfam Australia has urged the PM against changing the framework.

"Chopping and changing health policy at this point would be destructive," said Oxfam's Indigenous Policy Advisor Peter Lewis

"The plan will work if it’s given adequate funding, time and resources. It reinvigorates and refocus efforts to close the health gap through identifying core service models and service gaps, workforce requirements and funding mechanisms, reducing racism and highlighting the importance of culture to improved health outcomes.

"However, it’s unclear if it will be funded in the 2016 federal budget. If the government is serious about ensuring Indigenous men and women don’t die 10 years earlier than their non-Indigenous counterparts then now is the time to commit to properly funding this plan."

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