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New National Agreement a ‘historic turning point’


Matt Woodley


30/07/2020 4:12:29 PM

For the first time, all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will be able to have their say on closing the gap.

Pat Turner
Coalition of Peaks Lead Convener Pat Turner welcomed the agreement but said ‘the true work begins’ tomorrow. (Image: AAP)

The past 12 years have seen little progress been made towards closing the gap in healthcare disparities between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous Australians.
 
In fact, the country is on track to meet only two of seven targets aimed at reducing the disparity in health, education and employment outcomes.
 
However, a new National Agreement on Closing the Gap, in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities will have a much larger say on their own future, has given hope to Elders such as National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) Chief Executive Pat Turner.
 
‘Our country has unforgivable gaps in the life outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians in all aspects of life, including mortality, chronic disease, disability rates, housing security, education, employment and wealth,’ she said at a press conference announcing the new agreement on Thursday.
 
‘These gaps have burdened our people and caused the erosion of health and wellbeing of generations of First Nations Australians.
 
‘The National Agreement represents a turning point in our country’s efforts to close these gaps.’
 
Signed off by the National Cabinet, the Australian Local Government Association, and the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak organisations (Coalition of Peaks), the agreement was announced days after the RACGP released its own revised position statements aimed at improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander healthcare.
 
According to the Coalition of Peaks, the National Agreement is a pledge from all governments to fundamentally change the way they work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and organisations.
 
This change will be facilitated via four ‘Priority Reforms’ that were overwhelmingly supported during widespread community engagements led by the Coalition of Peaks late last year.
 
The reforms commit governments to:

  • establishing new partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across the country
  • strengthening community-controlled organisations to deliver closing the gap services
  • addressing structural racism within government agencies and organisations
  • improving sharing and information with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations to support shared decision-making.
‘Today finally marks a new chapter in our efforts to close the gap – one built on mutual trust, shared responsibility, dignity and respect,’ Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
 
‘The gaps we are now seeking to close are the gaps that have now been defined by the representatives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This is as it should be. This creates a shared commitment and a shared responsibility.
 
‘This is the first time a National Agreement designed to improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has been negotiated directly with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives.
 
‘By focusing our efforts on these more specific, practical and shared objectives we can expect to make much greater progress.’
 
The agreement includes new:
 
  • partnership actions – joint actions that all governments will take to give effect to each of the Priority Reforms
  • jurisdictional actions – additional actions to be undertaken within each jurisdictions taking into account state and territory circumstances.
All four Priority Reforms will have a target to measure government action in these areas, which will be reported on annually.
 
There will also be more independent reporting on progress, with the Productivity Commission set to deliver a report on progress every three years, while Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will conduct reviews of change on the ground.
 
Ms Turner, who is also the Lead Convener of the Coalition of Peaks, said while the agreement does not include everything that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people wanted, she is confident governments have been ‘pushed in their commitments’ because the Coalition of Peaks had a seat at the negotiating table.
 
‘The National Agreement has been hard fought between the Coalition of Peaks and governments,’ she said.
 
‘It was always going to be tough – this is the first time a National Agreement designed to improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has been developed and negotiated with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
 
‘More than 4000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people … participated in our engagements on what should be included in the new National Agreement guiding us in our negotiations, and we needed to show that they had been heard.
 
‘The Coalition of Peaks [has] always said that targets alone do not drive change. We have seen this from the past 10 years. It is the full implementation of the Priority Reforms by governments and a
commitment to additional resources our communities need that will make the difference.
 
‘If the Priority Reforms are implemented in full by governments and through shared decision-making with First Nations people, we should see changes over time to the lives and experiences of our people.’
 
To ensure continued political ownership and accountability, new mechanisms have been embedded in the National Agreement that stipulate progress will be publicly monitored and that closing the gap remains a national priority. It also includes formal opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to have an ongoing and direct say to governments on how the policy is working.
 
The National Agreement also establishes 16 national socioeconomic targets in areas, including education, employment, health and wellbeing, justice, safety, housing, land and waters, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages.
 
The next phase of the agreement will see each party develop implementation plans over the next 12 months to establish what they will do to deliver on the priority reforms and achieve the targets.
 
‘There is a significant difference from what governments alone were prepared to commit to in
December 2018 and where we are now,’ Ms Turner said. ‘That change has come about because of the work of the Coalition of Peaks and the support of our communities and organisations.
 
‘The Coalition of Peaks are firmly of the view that we needed to do all that we could do to influence the Government’s approach to the refresh of the Closing the Gap policy, which it started in 2016 and was heading down a worrying path.
 
‘Today we celebrate this historic agreement and those who fought hard to make it a reality. But tomorrow, the true work begins when we start to implement its commitments within our communities.’
 
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