History of Closing the Gap

Social justice report

In 2005, Professor Tom Calma, the then Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, released the

[2811]. This important report called for the governments of Australia to commit to achieving equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the areas of health and life expectancy within 25 years.

Close the Gap campaign

Close the Gap is a social justice campaign that aims to achieve health equality (measured as life expectancy equality) for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by 2030 [30931]. The campaign began as the National Indigenous Health Equality Campaign, which was formed in March 2006 by these organisations:

  • Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission
  • Indigenous Dentists’ Association of Australia (IDAA)
  • .

A steering committee was established to help guide the development of the campaign [341]. A coalition of more than 40 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous health organisations and human rights organisations became involved in the campaign.

The Close the Gap campaign is the ‘public face’ of the National Indigenous Health Equality Campaign [341]. This public awareness campaign was formally launched in Sydney in April 2007 and is organised by the NACCHO, ANTaR and Oxfam Australia. It united the voices of more than 40 organisations urging the state, territory and federal governments to commit to closing the health and life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and other Australians within a generation.

COAG and Closing the Gap

On 20 December 2007, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), which includes the leaders of federal, state and territory, and local governments, committed to ‘closing the gap’ in life expectancy between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous Australians. Importantly, COAG agreed to be accountable for reaching this goal within a specific timeframe. The strategy initiated at this time by COAG has become known as Closing the Gap.

Statement of intent

The National Indigenous Health Equality Summit was held in Canberra on 18-20 March 2008. At this Summit, the Close the Gap Indigenous health equality targets were presented to delegates. The Statement of intent [15106] was signed on 20 March 2008. The signatories to the Statement of intent were:

  • representatives of the Australian Government
  • Indigenous Dentists Association of Australia
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner.

The Statement of intent stipulated that the Australian governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples would ‘work together to achieve equality in health status and life expectancy between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians by the year 2030’ [15106].

Various state and territory governments have signed the Statement of intent since 2008:

  • Victoria in March 2008
  • Queensland in April 2008
  • Western Australia in April 2009
  • the Australian Capital Territory in April 2010
  • New South Wales in June 2010
  • South Australia in November 2010 [30931].

Other state and territory governments have made various commitments to improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

National Indigenous Health Equality Council

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced the establishment of the National Indigenous Health Equality Council (NIHEC) at the 2008 National Indigenous Health Equality Summit. NIHEC provides national leadership to help address the gap in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health status by bringing together representatives from Australian governments and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and mainstream health sectors. The NIHEC membership was formally announced by the Minister for Health, the Hon Nicola Roxon MP, on 10 July 2008.

This was the first time that such a high level of commitment had been made by the Australian, state and territory governments and others, raising the possibility of substantial improvement in the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

National Indigenous reform agreement

In November 2008, COAG agreed to the National Indigenous reform agreement (NIRA) [17301]. This agreement provides a comprehensive overview of the steps being taken to achieve the Closing the Gap targets, including the relevant objectives, outcomes, outputs, performance measures, and benchmarks in the various National Partnership Agreements.

The targets are [17301]:

  • close the gap in life expectancy by 2031
  • halve the gap in child mortality by 2018
  • ensure 95 percent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander four-years-olds are enrolled in early childhood education by 2025
  • halve the gap in reading, writing and numeracy by 2018
  • halve the gap in year 12 attainment by 2020
  • halve the gap in employment by 2018
  • close the gap in school attendance by 2018 (this target was added in May 2014) [34383].

The targets set by COAG to ‘close the gap’ are ambitious and challenging to measure. In order for these targets to be properly monitored and put into action, COAG identified a number of building blocks that need to be addressed, all of which are spelled out in the NIRA [17301]. The building blocks are interconnected and address several targets; they adopt a holistic view of health, addressing many of the underlying social determinants that influence and affect health. The building blocks are:

  • early childhood
  • schooling
  • health
  • economic participation
  • healthy homes
  • safe communities
  • governance and leadership.

The National Partnership Agreements (NPAs) are agreements between the Commonwealth of Australia and the states and territories. They ensure that all levels of government are committed to the same framework of outcomes, measure of progress, and policy directions. NPAs build on current initiatives, address shortfalls, and may provide additional funding. Six agreements were originally included in the Closing the Gap policy:

Another NPA was agreed between the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory Government in July 2009:

.

COAG committed $4.6 billion towards Closing the Gap in November 2008; the funds were directed to projects in health, housing, early childhood, economic participation, and remote service delivery [17301][15364].

National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples

The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples is the national representative voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The Congress was developed through consultation and submissions to a steering committee, assisted by the Australian Human Rights Commission. The first board of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples was appointed in April 2010.

With respect to Closing the Gap, the Congress contributes by:

  • providing the basis for a new relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and governments to ensure partnership and genuine engagement
  • ensuring that there is a ‘shared journey’ between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and governments
  • holding governments to account for their performance [16511].

National Health Leadership Forum

In 2011, the National Health Leadership Forum (NHLF) was established [30931]. The NHLF is made up of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak health organisations and the Close the Gap Steering Committee. It is the national representative body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations that provides advice to, and works with, the Australian Government to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health outcomes.

National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples calls for justice target

In March 2012, the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples (the national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representative organisation) suggested a new target relating to justice be added to existing Closing the Gap targets which are monitored by Australian governments [24792]. This target aimed to tackle the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the criminal justice system.

National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health plan

In June 2013, the Australian Government released the

(NATSIHP) [25558]. NATSIHP provides a long-term, evidence-based policy framework. It aims to deliver policies to increase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life expectancy by 2031. The Australian Government worked in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community groups, and peak bodies to produce the plan.

Renewal of National partnership agreement on closing the Gap in Indigenous health outcomes

In April 2013, the Australian Government announced $777 million to fund its share of a renewed

for a further three years to 30 June 2016 [26036]. The state and territory governments were asked to continue their investment to renew the NPA.

Implementation plan for the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health plan

In July 2013, the Australian Government released the

[30364]. The implementation plan focused on the Government’s role in ensuring the health system is flexible to respond to needs identified by the community, is able to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to make healthy choices, provides culturally safe access to quality early intervention and treatment services and integrated clinical services, and is free of racism.

Redfern Statement

In June 2016, a group of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak organisations released

[31983] calling on the Federal Government to retain and establish national representation to facilitate meaningful engagement, and improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander outcomes in health and justice.

Specifically, the Redfern Statement urges the government to:

  • commit to resourcing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander led solutions
  • commit to better engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples through their representative national peak organisations
  • recommit to Closing the Gap in this generation, by and in partnership with COAG and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • commit to working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders to establish a Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs in the future
  • commit to addressing the unfinished business of reconciliation [31983].

The Federal Government has taken some initial steps to engage with Redfern Statement signatories with an aim to improve the relationship and discuss the priorities outlined in the Statement [32847]. COAG’s 9 December 2016 Communique stated:

Leaders reaffirmed that improving the lives of Indigenous Australians is a priority of COAG’s strategic forward agenda and agreed that the ‘Closing the Gap’ framework has played a significant role in driving unprecedented national effort to improve Indigenous outcomes. With the current framework approaching its 10 year anniversary and some targets due to expire in 2018, Leaders have committed to work together and with Indigenous leaders, organisations and communities to refresh this agenda with renewed emphasis on collaborative effort, evaluation and building on what works in each jurisdiction. [35451]

Closing the Gap refresh

While there have been improvements to the health, employment and education status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the ten years since the launch of Closing the Gap, only two of the seven Closing the Gap targets was on track to be met in 2018 [34347]. In recognition of this slow progress and that four of the seven targets would expire in 2018, COAG agreed in December 2016 to refresh the Closing the Gap strategy [36310]. In June 2017, COAG agreed that the refreshed Closing the Gap strategy would adopt a strengths-based approach and ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were central to the development and implementation of the strategy.

In 2018, a Special Gathering was held, bringing together prominent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians to provide advice on future Closing the Gap policy priorities. The

[34928] was presented to COAG; this report noted that the next phase of the Closing the Gap strategy must be guided by the principles of empowerment and self-determination as articulated in the

[15106]. It recognised that the best progress over the last ten years has been in areas where the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community has led the design and implementation of programs from the beginning. It also noted that there has been no clear statement of who is accountable for the Closing the Gap targets and requested clear accountability mechanisms.

On 12 December 2018, COAG released the

[36310], a draft of the strengths-based framework that recognises the importance of genuine partnership between the governments and  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and outlined refreshed targets. The draft targets are:

  • Families, children and youth:
    • increase the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children assessed as developmentally on track in all five domains of the Australian Early Development Census to 45 per cent by 2028
    • 95 per cent of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander four-year-olds enrolled in early childhood education by 2025 (existing target)
    • significant and sustained progress to eliminate the over-representation of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care
    • a significant and sustained reduction in violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children.
  • Health:
    • close the gap in life expectancy between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous Australians within a generation, by 2031 (existing target)
    • by 2028, 90-92 per cent of babies born to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers have a healthy birthweight.
  • Education:
    • increase the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in the top two bands of NAPLAN reading and numeracy for years 3, 5, 7 and 9 by an average of 6 percentage points by 2028
    • decrease the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in the bottom two bands of NAPLAN reading and numeracy for years 3, 5, 7 and 9 by an average of 6 percentage points by 2028
    • halve the gap in attainment of Year 12 or equivalent qualifications between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous 20-24 year-olds by 2020 (existing target)
    • 47 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (aged 20-64 years) have completed Certificate III or above, including higher education, by 2028.
  • Economic development:
    • 65 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth (15-24 years) are in employment, education or training by 2028
    • 60 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 25-64 years are employed by 2028.
  • Housing:
    • increase the proportion of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population living in appropriately sized (not overcrowded) housing to 82 per cent by 2028.
  • Justice, including youth justice:
    • reduce the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in detention by 11-19 per cent, and adults held in incarceration by at least 5 per cent, by 2028.
  • Land and waters
    • a Land and waters target will be developed by mid-2019 by all jurisdictions to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ access to, management and ownership of, land of which they have a traditional association, or which can assist with their social, cultural and economic development.

The statement set timeframes for the all governments to:

  • establish a new formal partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, through their representatives, by the end of February 2019
  • finalise all draft targets by mid 2019
  • review the National Indigenous reform agreement (NIRA) [17301] by mid 2019
  • work with the Productivity Commission’s Indigenous Commissioner to develop an independent, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led approach to the three-yearly comprehensive evaluation and review of progress at a national level, and in each jurisdiction.

References

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images, voices and names of people who have passed away.
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