Today marks the tenth year of the Closing the Gap strategy. Only three of the seven targets are on track – improvements in infant mortality, early education enrolments and Year 12 attainment. The targets for closing the gap on school attendance, and halving the gap in unemployment rates, school literacy and numeracy results, will expire this year without having been met.

Simon Schrapel, CEO of Uniting Communities: ‘The Close the Gap Statement of Intent was premised on recognising that most of the target outcomes are reliant on addressing the underlying structural factors, such as social determinants, institutional racism, decent housing, and access to appropriate primary health care. These aspects need to be addressed if Government is serious about closing the gap, and about treating the causes rather than focusing on symptoms.

‘As part of understanding why the targets haven’t been met, we need to look at funding arrangements. In 2008, funding commitments were made to support the implementation of the Strategy but this was followed in the 2014 budget with cuts to the Indigenous affairs portfolio of more than $530 million. This has had a direct and negative impact on a range of frontline services.

‘We note that Prime Minister Turnbull indicated today that a ‘refreshed’ Closing the Gap policy will be announced later this year, and would focus more closely on communities, rather than setting targets at a broad national level. This is accompanied by a change in how funding is to be structured and accessed. It will be critically important that the proposed decentralised approach to setting and monitoring targets won’t involve onerous grant application processes that are not easily accessible to communities and their organisations’.

Mr Schrapel also commented on other factors that have undermined closing the gap: ‘The contradictory messages from the Coalition Government also serve to explain the lack of positive progress. For example, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet’s recent discussion paper on Closing the Gap flagged goals in a number of new areas, including a reduction in overcrowding, poor-quality housing and homelessness and yet the Coalition Government is not indicating a commitment to continue the National Partnership Agreement for Remote Housing, that is due to expire in June this year. A commitment to support remote housing would go a long way towards improving a number of the targets and social determinants of health and wellbeing.’

Central to any progress with closing the gap will be a commitment from the Coalition Government to engage with communities – this will include a proper consideration of the principles put forward in the Uluru Statement of the Heart, and the involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who are directly affected.

For media comment

Simon Schrapel AM, Chief Executive Officer, Uniting Communities
Mobile: 0411 643 132