ABC News Breakfast

Release Date: 
30 July 2020

Madeleine Morris A new national agreement on Closing the Gap is being released. It commits the government and Aboriginal groups to work together to change housing, early childhood and justice outcomes. The federal Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, joins us now from Parliament House. Good morning to you, Mr Wyatt. And can you just take us through what these really large scale changes are to closing the gap?

Ken Wyatt Thank you, Madeleine. I think the most significant element to this is the way in which the agreement was negotiated. The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, indicated much earlier in his time that we would negotiate each of the agreements and work through them with the 51 peak Aboriginal organisations. And I think the most strong feature of this is it's no longer just a Commonwealth responsibility - states and territories will take on each of the targets and will report in their own parliaments. We are jointly accountable, we are jointly responsible and we will work very differently with Aboriginal communities and community controlled organisations right across the country. Different paradigm, different approach.

Madeleine Morris It does seem extraordinary, but in this year, 2020, this is actually the first time that Indigenous organisations have been involved in drafting these. And as a result, we have seen now the targets go from eight to 16. What are the changes there?

Ken Wyatt Well, the 16 you'll you'll hear more about this when we make the agreement publicly available. But the 16 we'll work through is what are the key targets from the last agreement and then what are the other things that the impact on the lives of Aboriginal people right across this nation, geographically diverse nation that we are, that we can work towards achieving and seeing an improvement in life outcomes. And that was the premise for which all of the work was done. The working group comprising of the peak organisations, state government officials, and ultimately the Joint Council of Ministers of Aboriginal Affairs and the peak organisations agreed to the new arrangement, new approach and the targets and key priority areas that we've still got work to do on.

Madeleine Morris And so improving things like improving rates of Indigenous child removals, suicide imprisonment, all very important issues. How much extra money will you be putting into organisations and the system to meet these new targets?

Ken Wyatt Well, there's no money tied to the agreement, and that is deliberate because we want to set out the targets and the priority policy areas that have still yet to be finalised in terms of the detail. Because when we talk about out-of-home care, for example, we really need measures around what are the preventative elements before a child goes into even being considered for out-of-home care, and then what are the outcomes out-of-home care. So the joint working group will continue to work on elements of that...

Madeleine Morris Sorry, I just wanted to interrupt you there, Minister, I'm sorry. Because we know that the Closing the Gap targets up until now have essentially failed. Only two out of the eight were actually met. You're adding now eight new targets, but no additional resources, and the Coalition of Peak Aboriginal organisations says that it's going to be additional resources to our community's needs that will make the difference. They're going to need more money.

Ken Wyatt Well, we are considering all of those within the context of each of the targets, because what we also have to go back to is the point is that Indigenous Australians are part of every state and territory jurisdiction and already there are resources allocated to the targeted areas. But where we will require additional resources then we will ensure that that occurs. And that's part of the negotiations and the work that Commonwealth and state and territory governments, the Australian Local Government Association and the peaks will work through over the next 12 months and then ultimately over the life of the agreement, because as the programs are implemented and developed, we will resource those. But more importantly, we will look at those programs that are not working and not achieving the targets as well.

Madeleine Morris Isn't this the sort of ambition and scale that an Indigenous voice to Parliament really would help very much with, and we still haven't seen that. Where are we at with that particular process?

Ken Wyatt Well, it's evolving. And certainly the three groups I have working on this have developed some models that they collectively will come back to me and to government on that will reflect the aspirations of having people's voices heard at the community level, at the state level and at the national level.

Madeleine Morris Weren't those models supposed to be ready by July, were in July now?

Ken Wyatt Well, Covid-19 interfered with the process. And whilst they've been teleconferencing and using tele-presence that has impeded the work of consulting with communities just to consolidate the thinking of each of those groups and the way in which we will have an outcome that our community will accept.

Madeleine Morris Can I just briefly ask you as well, Minister, before I let you go. How much has the Black Lives Matter movement increased the impetus, or has it increased the impetus for all of these changes?

Ken Wyatt No, I think the way in which the 51 peak organisations first approached government two years ago about working in partnership and engaging and shaping

and designing the new outcomes was the impetus for the change and the driver for the change. And Prime Minister Morrison said, look, this embrace this, let's work together. If we're going to make a difference we have to all jointly, own it, be responsible and be accountable.

Madeleine Morris Okay, it's a big day for Indigenous Australians, a big day for all of us. Thank you very much for taking the time to speak to us this morning.

Ken Wyatt Thank you, Madeleine.