“Despite the best intentions, investments in new programs and bipartisan goodwill, Closing the Gap
has never really been a partnership with Indigenous people. We perpetuated an ingrained way of thinking passed down over two centuries and more, and it was the belief that we knew better than our Indigenous peoples. We don’t.
“We also thought we understood their problems better than they did. We don’t. They live them. We must see the gap we wish to close, not from our viewpoints, but from the viewpoint of Indigenous Australians.”
Ms Turner, who is also the chief executive of National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, said the reports had told “the same story of failure every year”.
“The danger of this seemingly endless cycle of failure is that it breeds complacency and cynicism, while excusing those in power. People begin to believe that meaningful progress is impossible and there is nothing governments can do to improve the lives of our people,” Ms Turner said.
She said the existing Closing the Gap framework was “doomed to fail” when it was designed without the input of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“We know what will work best for our communities and the Prime Minister even acknowledges in this report that our voice was the missing ingredient from original framework.”
Mr Morrison confirmed a new approach towards closing the gap in disadvantage between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in his speech, including expanding the opportunities for shared decision-making, building the community-controlled services and ensuring mainstream agencies provided high quality services.
“I’m very hopeful that a new approach that’s more locally-led and more collaborative will take us much further than the top-down, one-size-fits-all, government-led approach ever could,” Mr Morrison said.
“We know that when Indigenous people have a say in the design of programs, policies and services, the outcomes are better – and lives are changed.”
Ms Turner said while governments said they were listening to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the true test would be translating the priority reforms into “real, tangible and funded actions”.
“This historic partnership could be the circuit-breaker that is needed,” she said.
“However, if they view this process as little more than window dressing for the status quo, the cycle of failure evident in today’s report is doomed to continue.”
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said the failure to achieve five of the seven “modest” Closing the Gap targets was “tragic”.
He also urged the Morrison government to reconsider their opposition to the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which would include a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament.
“There is a danger that the Uluru Statement will end up being remembered as a noble moment, but not as a turning point, and we cannot allow that to happen,” he said.
“The voice is a modest request that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples be consulted about issues and policies that directly affect them. That’s what it is. It is not a third chamber.”
Rob Harris is the National Affairs Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra