"I believe we can get the settings right if advice and counsel from Aboriginal and Torres Strait people, many who are subject matter experts, are given proper consideration. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders know how their communities work, they know what investments will lead to improvements as well as changes to avoid because of the possible harm they may cause. Clearly we need everybody listening and engaged to not only respond, but also comprehend the advice being given from subject matter experts." – Indigenous Advisory Council Co-Chair, Andrea Mason
The Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council. From left, Ms Andrea Mason, Mr Djumbulwar Marawili AM, Professor Ngiare Brown, Professor Chris Sarra, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion, Cr Roy Ah-See, Ms Susan Murphy, and Minister for Indigenous Health Ken Wyatt AM. Not present: Cr Ted Fraser.
An ongoing journey
Our country’s shared journey – that of Australia’s First Peoples and non-Indigenous population – is relatively young. It is a journey that has great potential, grounded in a history that has been challenging and, at times, painful.
Successive governments – Commonwealth, state and territory – have acknowledged the legacy of trauma and grief in Aboriginal and Torres Islander communities as a result of colonisation, forced removals and other past government policies.
They have sought to redress this legacy, in part by strengthening the relationship between governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and finding common ground based on a shared desire for a better tomorrow and knowledge that it is possible.
The continued commitment remains an ongoing journey – one that has at times tested the resilience and perseverance of Australia’s First Peoples.
But it is a shared understanding that the forward journey can only be walked together that has kept both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and government at the table.
We remain committed to a future where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are supported to live the lives they choose and reach their full potential. Realising this will require us all to build relationships based on trust and mutual respect, and to draw on the examples of resilience and perseverance demonstrated by Australia’s Indigenous people throughout history.
This relationship is not just about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders thriving, but about all Australians thriving.
The past 10 years
The relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, governments and the wider community has strengthened over the past decade – largely as a result of grassroots campaigns led by Indigenous Australians who fought for better outcomes for their people and a greater recognition of their place as Australia’s First Peoples.
The National Apology to the Stolen Generations and the creation of the Closing the Gap framework in 2008 followed sustained campaigning from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
These actions created an opening for a new relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous Australians.
Through the Council of Australian Governments, Australia’s political leaders agreed to work with Australia’s First Peoples to improve Indigenous outcomes in the areas of health, education and employment. Six Closing the Gap targets were established, and a seventh target on school attendance was added in 2014.
This commitment to work together with First Australians was further reinforced by the Government’s statement of support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2009.
Over the past 10 years, successive governments have implemented measures under the Closing the Gap framework to improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Commonwealth, state and territory governments have recognised that working in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is critical to improving outcomes for First Australians.
The Closing the Gap strategy has been underpinned by trust, respect and goodwill between governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The relationship between Australia’s First Peoples and governments today is significantly deeper than it was 10 years ago.
The key to moving further along this journey is honest, open and respectful dialogue between governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, from peak organisations to grassroots campaigners, underpinned by mechanisms that hold all parties to account.
What have we learned?
Today, we have a far better idea of what works and what does not compared to a decade ago. Reviews on Closing the Gap engagement initiatives over the past 10 years have informed government thinking. Studies from the Closing the Gap Clearinghouse have shown:
- significant gains have been made to reset the relationship between Australia’s First Peoples, governments and mainstream Australia;
- a productive working relationship must have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at its core, with First Australians involved in decision-making processes; and
- for Indigenous engagement to be most effective, it needs to be based on the aspirations and priorities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and conducted within an Indigenous‑driven process.
What have we achieved?
In 2018, the Australian Government remains resolute in its commitment to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
From engagement at the local level through local organisations and communities, to engagement with peak organisations on the national stage, significant steps have been taken to ensure the views, aspirations and priorities of First Peoples influence the development of policies, programs and services that affect them and enable them to reach their full potential.
Local engagement and service delivery
The Government, through the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s Regional Network, continues to work with local Indigenous communities and organisations across the country to help create opportunities for them to deliver services that support people living in their communities.
The Regional Network has more than 500 staff, of which 254 identify as Indigenous, on the ground in more than 100 locations across urban, regional and remote Australia. These staff work alongside communities and stakeholders to develop local solutions to address local issues. The Regional Network facilitates a strong relationship between the Government and communities to enable local aspirations to be fulfilled.
Through the community-led Empowered Communities initiative and arrangements with regional authorities such as Murdi Paaki, joint decision-making processes are being co-designed and implemented, placing communities at the centre of decision-making. While still in early stages, the process will ensure funding decisions are strongly guided by input from communities and solutions to address local issues are developed at the local level.
For example, Inner Sydney Empowered Communities led the design of the joint decision-making process which involves community panels. Service providers were asked to self-assess their existing services delivered to the Aboriginal community and how their service may align with the region's Pathway of Empowerment. The community panels assessment provides direct and up to date input, from differing demographics from within the Aboriginal community, into the formal recommendations from EC leaders to the Government when they are considering Indigenous funding and services required within the region. This new way of doing business with the Aboriginal communities within Inner Sydney has the support and endorsement of the Government.
With approximately 45 per cent of the land in Cape York determined and the remaining land under claim, Cape York people have been looking to the next stage of their future – including how to ensure their land can provide a foundation for their children to enjoy the same level of prosperity and financial independence as other Australians.
After a 27-year journey for land rights, the people of Cape York are looking to start a new journey based on empowerment, land and economic development – one where they will work with government on decisions around the future direction of their communities to better deliver opportunities around jobs and growing businesses. However, the Cape York region is a huge area of more than 280,000 square kilometres with a large number of clan groups each with its own cultural authority and rights over its lands. This journey would only work if they could move forward together.
With the support of the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, the Aboriginal leaders in the region have undertaken an intensive process over four months covering two Cape York summits, three regional workshops (each involving four sub-regions) and 12 visits to sub-regions to discuss whether there was support for this new way forward and how it could be done. Community facilitators, usually local Aboriginal people, play an important role by working with their communities and clan groups to ensure there was broad input to the design of these new arrangements. There was also support from Indigenous Business Australia and the Indigenous Land Corporation as well as a significant voluntary contribution from corporate partner, Boston Consulting Group.
This work culminated in the final summit in December attended by more than 400 people, including 330 registered Traditional Owners from across Cape York. There was broad support for this new approach and to put a proposal to government in January 2018. While there is still much work to be done, there has been clear support for Aboriginal people to work together at the sub-regional level and deal with governments in a more empowered way. This approach puts local people at the heart of decision making in their communities.
Working with state and territory governments
State and territory governments, in keeping with their commitment to Closing the Gap, are working with First Peoples to design and implement programs that make a difference to the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Each state and territory has developed mechanisms and governance structures such as Indigenous advisory bodies, or in the case of the Australian Capital Territory, the ACT Elected Body, that provide avenues for First Peoples to influence, guide and hold decision-makers to account.
At the national level
The Australian Government is taking a whole-of-government approach to policy and program development, and service delivery to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
This approach means ministers, departments and agencies – from health, to education, environment, and community services – are working closely with each other, Indigenous communities and peak bodies to ensure policies and programs are as effective as possible and services are targeted, accessible and culturally appropriate.
Examples of this include the Department of Health working with the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services sector over many years to develop policies to improve outcomes for First Australians.
The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan 2013-23 sets out the Australian Government’s vision, principles, priorities and strategies to deliver better health outcomes for Indigenous Australians. An implementation plan outlines the actions to be undertaken by the Government, the Aboriginal community controlled health sector, and other key stakeholders under the Health Plan.
Another example is the Third Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-22 – being jointly administered by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Department of Social Services. The Government is co-designing with Indigenous organisations the initiatives being rolled out as part of the $25 million Indigenous‑focused package under the Third Action Plan.
The Australian Government is also working with the commercial sector to provide further business and employment opportunities for First Peoples. For instance, the Government’s Indigenous Procurement Policy and investment in major infrastructure projects have unlocked vast new opportunities for Indigenous businesses that create jobs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
The ensuing chapters detail how government departments are working with each other and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to improve Indigenous outcomes.
Reflections on 2017
The past year has been one of significant milestones – in the way First Australians have worked with and provided advice to the Australian Government, and in the way important and historic occasions in Australia’s modern history have been celebrated. Engagement through the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council and the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples working with the Redfern Statement Alliance are two examples – but numerous other examples are showcased throughout this report.
The Prime Minister's Indigenous Advisory Council
The Indigenous Advisory Council has ensured First Australians have been appropriately involved in policy development and decision-making.
The Council’s advice has extended to the very heart of the Government: the Cabinet. This occurred through a committee of Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister and attended by Ministers whose portfolio responsibilities directly impact on the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
In providing its advice to the Government about policies of importance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the Council focuses its attention in four key areas:
- strengthening the relationship;
- using strengths-based approaches;
- enabling and embracing local leadership and decision making; and
- developing better lines of accountability and decision making for expenditure in Indigenous Affairs and beyond.
National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples and the Redfern Statement Alliance
Working with the leaders of the Redfern Statement, the Government has worked in partnership with the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples and peak Indigenous organisations through a series of workshops over the past year that have focused on improving outcomes in areas such as childhood development, health, community safety, and housing.
On 17 August 2017, Redfern Statement Alliance leaders met with key Cabinet ministers at the Redfern Statement Ministerial Forum to discuss outcomes from the series of Redfern Statement workshops and identify next steps to implement recommendations.
The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, through its Co-Chairs, Dr Jackie Huggins and Mr Rod Little, also had a seat at the table at the Council of Australian Governments’ Ministerial Council on Indigenous Affairs’ historic first meeting held to discuss refreshing the Closing the Gap agenda to one based on Indigenous strengths.
Since Congress was established, the Australian Government has provided funding of $32.1 million to support its engagement and advocacy on behalf of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
The relationship between the Australian Government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has strengthened over the past 10 years – but we must continue to strengthen the relationship. Trusted, respectful and accountable relationships are key to the effective development of policies and delivery of services that will improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Kornar Winmil Yunti Aboriginal Corporation working with communities to reduce domestic violence
Kornar Winmil Yunti Aboriginal Corporation team members, back row from left, Tod Stokes, Stephanie McGarrigan, Brad Hart, Prue Adamson and Teri Di Salvo. Front row from left, Jenni Greenhill, Craig Rigney, and Dianne Martin. The Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion, announced a $25 million investment in frontline Indigenous organisations and Family Violence Prevention Legal Services.
More local solutions are available on the resources page.