Closing the Gap review finds policy 'effectively abandoned' amid 'extensive funding cuts'

Closing the Gap review finds policy 'effectively abandoned' amid 'extensive funding cuts'

Closing the Gap review finds policy 'effectively abandoned' amid 'extensive funding cuts'

Updated 8 February 2018, 10:55 AEDT

A damning report accuses the Federal Government of effectively dropping the policy designed to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians, finding it has been severely affected by funding cuts and a "revolving door of prime ministers and senior bureaucrats".

The Federal Government has "abandoned" its Closing the Gap policy aimed at improving the lives of Indigenous Australians, according to a damning review into the initiative 10 years after it was first launched.

The policy was created under the Rudd government in 2008 to reduce inequalities in health, education and employment between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Last year's annual report indicated six of seven key measures were not on track.

The Turnbull Government is now looking at overhauling the decade-old targets.

The ABC has learned the Prime Minister's Department is considering new child-protection and justice targets.

The Close the Gap Steering Committee — a coalition of non-government organisations — said a renewed commitment to ending inequality was needed.

The committee's review stated: "A revolving door of prime ministers, Indigenous affairs ministers and senior bureaucrats have all but halted the steady progress hoped for by First Peoples.

"After the initial funding commitments made for the Closing the Gap strategy … the strategy was effectively abandoned with the extensive cuts, over $530 million, made to the Indigenous affairs portfolio in the 2014 federal budget."

About 60 Indigenous leaders will meet Government representatives in Canberra today for high-level talks on how to refresh the policy.

A discussion paper prepared by the Prime Minister's Department flagged goals in a raft of new areas:

  • Housing to reduce overcrowding, poor-quality housing and homelessness
  • Higher education
  • Land and sea "to resolve remaining land claims"
  • Child protection
  • Justice to cut "recidivism and violent offending"

The Federal Government previously resisted justice and child-protection targets.

"The Prime Minister is determined to challenge the racism of low expectations that not only holds back First Australians, but holds us back as a nation," the document stated.

"The Closing the Gap targets, set in 2008, were highly ambitious, to the point where some were not actually achievable.

"The targets and trajectories were developed without a systematic evaluation of the evidence."

This year's report card will be released on Monday.

Community airs fears 'nothing will change'

Michael Mansell from the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre will be attending and said he was not entirely convinced a renewed approach would have a meaningful impact.

"My fear is nothing will change. The Prime Minister doesn't want to go in to an election with the criticism that he failed to make any difference in the Close the Gap measurements, and Aboriginal people will be no better off," Mr Mansell said.

"When we look back at the Prime Minister's record of consultation, where he completely ignored the Uluru Statement last year … it means we have every right to be very cynical.

"If we really want to make a difference to the living standard of Aboriginal people, it must be driven by Aboriginal people who are directly affected.

"There needs to be a shift in the administration of the policy from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to a new national Aboriginal body."

'The refresh process … appears to be promoting an agenda'

The report also urged the Government to have greater involvement from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

"The refresh process has lacked clarity and appears to be promoting an agenda based on views within Government that have involved virtually no engagement with First Peoples in their development," the report stated.

The Government must make long-term commitments, and not expect immediate or fast results, said Karen Heap, another delegate, from the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation.

"It's about self-determination of Aboriginal people and letting us have the voice about the changes we need to make, and I think that's where it's gone wrong in the past," she said.

"The situation has been going on for over 250 years, it's not going to be fixed in 10 years, and we do need to make sure it's done in a timely fashion, but we need to make sure it's sustainable and it's ongoing and it doesn't just stop.

"For 10 years we've been talking about closing the gap and the figures show … we're only closing the gap in schooling, so we have a long way to go and we need to make sure we do better."