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The Guardian, Tuesday 14 February 2017

Closing the gap isn't just a dramatic policy failure, it's a

moral failure too
Paul Daley

Enough of Closing the Gap. It only shows how governments of all persuasion can get away
with fatal incompetence when it comes to the First Australians

Enough. This yearly political charade, Closing the Gap, is not saving Indigenous lives, getting more
First Nations kids through school or keeping more young black people out of prison. Indeed, the
very arbitrary determinants of the gap do not even include a measure on the number of
incarcerated Indigenous Australians.

A big part of this largely whitefella process is, after all, managing expectations. And were you to
start measuring Indigenous outcomes in terms of the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander people behind bars or who continue to die in the most hideous ways in custody, you might
have to actually admit that youd already ignored the best advice on how to change things.

On 15 April it will be 26 years since the royal commission report into Aboriginal deaths in custody. It
made 339 recommendations on how to keep Indigenous Australians out of jail and, therefore, away
from the possibility of dying behind bars.

In 1991, when the report was handed down, Indigenous people comprised 14% of prisoners (a
shameful figure given Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders constitute about 3% of the population).
Quarter of a century later, Indigenous people comprise about 27% of the prison population and
150-plus more have died behind bars.

No state or federal administration since then, conservative or Labor, has adequately explained why
the royal commissions recommendations havent been implemented.

Which goes to show that in the space of policymaking for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
people, governments of all persuasion can get away with the type of literally fatal incompetence/
negligence/ignorance that would cause a clean sweep of the parliaments were non-Indigenous
lives in such peril.

So enough already. Enough of Closing the Gap, its associated PR and pageantry and pre-release
expectation management.

Every year its the same. The appalling outcomes (this year six out of seven targets were not met)
are always pretty much unchanged or, indeed, worse than the year before.

The federal parliaments leaders say they must, will, do better. The media, for the most part little
interested in the nuts and bolts and delivery of policy for Indigenous Australians because none of
that involves the same make-or-break political tension as, say, debates on paid parental leave or
expenses for the entitled or incessant leadership shadow play go, Yeah, they must do better,
theyve promised to do better. Lets wait and see next year.

Its an outward-facing political gesture an assurance to the world that while our Indigenes
continue to suffer as some of the most underprivileged people of the world even though they might
live on the luckiest, richest continent the mostly whitefella politicians are, at least, still watching
the disaster space. Mind the gap.
This dramatic policy and moral failure is, like so much of what is important to Australia, is
shrouded in bipartisanship.

At the core of the Redfern Statement (re-presented to the politicians after it was ignored during the
last election campaign) is the ambition for self-determination for another chance for Indigenous
Australia to involve itself at the heart of policymaking and implementation. State, territory and
federal parliaments have been marred by failure, scandal and corruption. Yet Australia persists,
rightly, with those institutions.

But the dramatic failure of Atsic spelled the death knell of self-determination in this country. It is
held up See what happens when they get to run things themselves! as the exemplar of how
not to manage Indigenous affairs. Thats another whitefella convenience, a way of avoiding
investing trust in Indigenous people to bring better outcomes for themselves in the cities and
regions and remote communities.

Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are pledged to the Recognise campaign, to
write Indigenous Australians into the constitution. Someone, please, from Don Dale to the Darling
Downs, explain how that will bring the really urgent changes to Indigenous outcomes? From
Redfern to North East Arnhem Land, Ive never heard an Aboriginal person say they want
Recognise or that theyre waiting for Closing the Gap to improve things.

But I have heard them complain about having to travel five hours on a bumpy road for dialysis. And
lament that their kids are stuck in jail for driving offences. And talk about the babies that never
made it. And for the need for a toilet at the school. It goes on.

Ill say again, out of frustration and anger, that it all comes back to history to the attempt to crush
the oldest civilisation on the planet, to their denial of land, to the murders and the ongoing racist
oppression that reverberates generationally and directly causes such terrible human outcomes.
Closing the Gap might seem like accountability to (mostly) non-Indigenous policymakers who
oversee the failure of Aboriginal Australia, but it doesnt, to my mind, constitute a beginning 50
years after the 1967 citizenship referendum.

How instructive, as parliament resumed last week, that our MPs gathered at the Australian War
Memorial (which does not reflect Indigenous resistance to British invasion, post-1788) to pay
tribute to those Australian war dead we do choose to recognise.

The stone gargoyles in the main courtyard, featuring Australian fauna, have been there since the
memorial opened in 1941. Recent asbestos contamination necessitated their replacement.
One of the newly crafted Aboriginal faces sits on the wall in place of the old, sculpted with the
identical condescending ethnographic curiosity as the gargoyle it replaced.

Which illustrates, of course, just how little official attitudes to Indigenous Australians have really
altered. Thats the pace of improvement in the lives of First Australians.

Just look at Closing the Gap.

The Sydney Morning Herald, Wednesday 15 February 2017


More work to do on Closing the Gap

It is an affront to Indigenous Australians that their lives are almost always portrayed in mainstream
media through a prism of what the Prime Minister called "despondency and deficit" when releasing
the 2017 Closing the Gap report. Descriptions of poverty, domestic violence, drunkenness and
homelessness may be well-intentioned attempts to draw attention to ongoing problems, but they do
not convey the full picture of Aboriginal lives.

It is easier to group "Indigenous Australians" under one catch-all category than to make mental
accommodation for a population with big differences between individuals and groups, much as
exist among non-Indigenous Australians.

Alice Springs town councillor Jacinta Nampijinpa Price drew attention to this obvious fact in a
searing Facebook post in January, lambasting "Aboriginal middle-class activists" who want to
change the date of Australia Day. She said they "come from privilege themselves" compared to the
country's most marginalised people, and accused them of making "an even bigger deal out of this
than actually saving the lives of Aboriginal people who are living among us now.

The focus should be on the future, not the past, Price wrote, "so that the most marginalised
Aboriginal people of this country whose first language is usually not English, who do not have
access to media, whose lives are affected at alarming rates by family violence can have the same
opportunities as those who claim to feel pain because a country celebrates how lucky we are on a
date that marks the arrival of the first fleet.

The idea of a national day of mourning is anathema to Price. "What do we have to benefit from
being in a constant state of mourning? Mourning does not give us freedom, it imprisons us and I
have had enough. I bury my family far too regularly and that is all the mourning I can handle."

The Closing the Gap strategy is the action plan to overcome Indigenous disadvantage that went
with then prime minister Kevin Rudd's apology to the Stolen Generations nine years ago. Its latest
report card is cause for yet another round of national hand-wringing. Anguish may be genuinely
felt, but it's action that counts.

Despite some long-term progress, such as improved reading and numeracy, reduced smoking
rates and lower mortality rates, the state and federal governments are on track to miss six of the
seven targets set. The gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians on Year 12
attainment looks like being halved by 2020. But the gap is widening in some crucial areas, like
deaths caused by cancer, infant mortality and employment.

The Prime Minister said "we are not seeing sufficient national progress" on the targets, singling out
high rates of suicide and disproportionately high rates of incarceration among Indigenous
Australians for attention.

"Our commitment to the end goal will not waiver, but we must do things differently. We must build
on what is working and change what isn't working," he said.

It's clear the Closing the Gap process has stalled, perhaps in part due to the $500 million cut to
programs under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy in the 2014 budget. The Prime Minister
needs to resist the ideologues in the Coalition who see no role for government in addressing
Aboriginal disadvantage, or even believe Aborigines get a free ride, or use the past as an excuse.
That attitude utterly misunderstands the reality of the lives Australia's most marginalised people.
If the yes vote wins in the planned referendum on whether the Australian constitution should be
amended to recognise Indigenous Australians, that will be an important symbolic shift with the
potential to change the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians for the
better. But it won't bring about equality. Only dogged, difficult, ongoing collaboration on policy and
practice between government, business and communities will bring us closer to that goal.

As the 10-year mark for the Closing the Gap strategy approaches, the Council of Australian
Governments has agreed to work with Indigenous Australians to refresh the targets, and rightly so.
Additional targets should be considered, for example in relation to housing, justice and domestic
violence. Any changes should be based on two non-negotiable principles: that they are driven by
Indigenous communities, and they are based on evidence as to what works.

Peter Broelman, Geelong Advertiser, Thursday 17 February 2017