Closing the Gap: Ten Years On
WORDS BY KIERA FAHEY
10 years since the Australian Government set its Closing the Gap campaign, we look at what has been achieved and what has been unsuccessful in reducing inequality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
What is ‘Closing the Gap’?
In 2008, the Rudd Government launched the Close the Gap targets. This framework was a response to campaigning from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma, who urged the government to achieve equality in health and life expectancy within 25 years.
The Closing the Gap Targets set were:
- Close the life expectancy gap within a generation
- Halve the gap in child mortality rates
- Ensure access to early childhood education
- Close the gap in school attendance
- Halve the gap in reading, writing and numeracy
- Halve the gap in Year 12 attainment rates
- Halve the gap in employment outcomes
Malcolm Turnbull’s 2018 Close the Gap Report reported on ‘better outcomes’ and successful progress, including steady improvement in absolute terms on most measures. However, this positive rhetoric does not match the fact that Australia is only on track to achieve three of these seven targets.
What hasn’t been successful?
The 2018 report shows that targets related to life expectancy, employment, literacy and numeracy, and school attendance are not on track.
The lack of progress cannot be entirely attributed to lack of funds. The Productivity Commission estimates 5.6% of total direct government expenditure is put towards Indigenous expenditure. Despite this outlay of funds, government action has yielded dismally poor returns, indicating flaws in their approach and actions.
It has been suggested that the barriers to closing these gaps include:
- Discrepancy between stated policy goals and policy actions
- Lack of radical change in approach to Indigenous affairs
- Lack of empowerment to implement local solutions
The Closing the Gap campaign has suitable goals and intention, however has not been matched by strong action, adequate policy, and most importantly, granting self-determination and autonomy.
What is the opinion of the United Nations?
Australia’s progress on Closing the Gap has been described as ‘woefully inadequate’. In 2017, the United Nations raised concern for breaches of human rights and failure to improve Indigenous disadvantage despite the nation’s two decades of economic growth.
Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples visited Australia in 2017 to report on Australia’s adherence to international standards for Indigenous rights. Her statement was that Australia’s policies and priorities ‘do not duly respect the rights to self-determination and effective participation’.
The main recommendation of Tauli-Corpuz is the same that Indigenous people constantly reiterate, to place importance on the need for ‘policies and initiatives that fully and meaningful support self-determination’.
How should we move forward?
10 years on from the establishment of the Closing the Gap targets, Australia has seen improvement and promising signs that some targets will be met. However, there are currently four targets not on track, and huge gap in life outcomes remains between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
The most obvious path forward, and one that has been recommended by the United Nations as well as Indigenous people themselves, is to cease colonialist attitudes and support meaningful self-determination for Australia’s custodians. The way forward is for the Government to work with Australia’s Indigenous people, and actively engage with their partnership, advice and desires.