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What is the plan?

A new National Agreement on Closing the Gap was signed last month and then hurriedly disappeared from the national consciousness.

This left me with a few questions:

  • Why is Australia so apathetic to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People except around January 26 and NAIDOC Week?

  • What are the new targets and how will they or won’t they make a difference to people’s lives?

I’m not going to answer these questions fully because I think question 1 is an open ended question that’s been asked since colonisation, and question 2 can’t be answered in anything less than 100,000 words… way too long for my blood.

The next questions that came to mind are:

  • What is the plan for implementing solutions to bring about the change required to meet the new targets?

  • If there are solutions that the government has in mind, what are they?

  • Who is going to be responsible for implementing them?

  • What say will Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People have in the development of the solutions?

  • Will Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities have a role in their implementation?

  • And on, and on, and on

So many questions and so few answers. There is not even any funding announced to keep momentum moving forward for the new agreement, which also makes me ask:

  • Does all the funding removed from Closing the Gap since 2013 have any role in the failures to date? I can answer this one - A: Abso %#^*ing lutely!! (Thanks to Uncle Lifestyle Choices and his sidekick).

Michael West Media recently filed a story that details the eye watering amounts of money that have been ripped from Indigenous Services since 2013, and as the first paragraph states, only one journalist asked our current PM a question about funding during the recent announcement.

Close the Gap has been going since 2008 and so far I believe we’ve had 11 occasions where the Prime Minister of the day has stood in parliament to deliver the government’s report card outlining their failures to achieve the majority of targets. Next question:

  • Has there ever been a government program that has achieved success after systematic and recurring funding cuts?

Rather than describe the water people are drowning in, I’m going to manage up and bring solutions to the table. There are a number of possible infrastructure projects around digital capability that we’ve written about recently for a start. I also started reflecting on why we started Shared Path. After working in public health programs for years and being frustrated at not ever being able to implement a system based on public health theory like the social determinants of health, we decided that helping people build their own income streams would give them greater choice to make their own positive change. I’m sure there is at least one public health program on the planet that has been funded to act on all the social determinants to achieve positive health outcomes for a particular population, but the fact that I don’t know that it exists says more about government funded public health systems than it does about my education.

I even mapped the new closing the gap targets against the social determinants of health to see if it told me anything useful… it told me that the social determinants of health are incredibly relevant and that Shared Path’s mission to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People and Communities to start businesses on Country is a catalyst to positive change.

I’d like to go through the same process with the UN Sustainable Development Goals but I have to get back to work. Next question:

  • When is the government going to get to work in achieving these 16 new targets?

I know the economy is screwed, but Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People and Communities have waited long enough for proper investment and inclusion. It’s been 12 years since Close the Gap started. We want to participate and we have good ideas for generating revenue. We want to help grow the economy and take care of our people in the process. We want to provide positive role models to our children and show them that innovation and entrepreneurship is possible anywhere.

I don’t want to hear another poor Closing the Gap report card, read by an apathetic PM, because the human cost is all too visible to us Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. We’ve already waited 12 years. We want to be involved, but more than that we want more control. The history of government failure is long and expensive (both in dollar and human terms) - ATSIC; the National Congress of Indigenous Peoples; Native Title; Close the Gap; the Northern Territory Emergency Response; the Uluru Statement. Time lost = lives lost.

Stimulus packages are going to be required for a long time yet and our economy needs to diversify and add digital skills and renewable energy as major drivers of revenue. The silver lining of the Covid-19 pandemic provides us an opportunity. We all hear and read the stories about our children being burdened with paying off the debts we’re accumulating to get through this. Surely our job now is to be putting in place the structures and frameworks to give them the best opportunity of achieving all these social and economic targets as soon as possible.

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