Australian governments do not appear to have grasped the nature and scale of change required to accelerate improvements in life outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people under the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, according a Productivity Commission draft report released overnight.
The Productivity Commission’s first overarching review of the Agreement highlights the lack of meaningful progress in implementing the four key Priority Reforms set out by all governments and the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Organisations in 2020.
“This Agreement held – and continues to hold – significant promise. It takes a different approach: a partnership between government and peak Indigenous groups focused on lifting outcomes by changing the systems and structures that drive them. But so far we are seeing too much business-as-usual and too little real transformation,” said Productivity Commission Chair Michael Brennan.
The report finds that, despite their commitment to do so, governments are not yet sharing power with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in a way that enables decisions to be made in genuine partnership. It shows that little effort has been made to reform government agencies or to strengthen the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled sector.
“Consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people cannot be on solutions that are pre-determined – governments need to allow Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to make decisions for themselves and their communities,” said Commissioner Natalie Siegel-Brown.
Instead, governments have listed thousands of initiatives that are disconnected from each other and the ambitions of the Agreement, many of which represent a relabelling of existing practices.
Partly as a consequence of this, the Commission heard from the 200 groups they met with, including 121 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, that government action towards the Agreement is not being felt on the ground.
The report finds that, in particular, slow progress on Priority Reform 3 – requiring the reform of government itself – is impeding progress towards the other Priority Reforms in the Agreement.
“Priority Reform 3 of the Agreement makes it clear that to drive change government agencies need to change how they work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We are yet to identify a government organisation that has a clear vision for what transformation looks like and a strategy to achieve it,” said Commissioner Romlie Mokak.
The report finds that much stronger accountability mechanisms are needed to achieve the Priority Reforms.
“Governments continue to make decisions that disregard or contradict the Agreement. Without better accountability mechanisms, we are unlikely to see the transformative changes governments have committed to,” said Commissioner Mokak.
The Commission is requesting further information and feedback on its draft recommendations. Submissions and brief comments in response to this draft report are welcome by 6 October 2023. The Commission will also be meeting with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and governments before providing the final report to the Joint Council on Closing the Gap by the end of 2023.
The Review of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap draft report, information papers and an accompanying video are available on he Productivity Commission’s website right here..
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