ABC Radio National

Release Date: 
30 July 2020

Fran Kelly 16 new targets for reducing indigenous disadvantage in Australia will be unveiled when the new National Agreement on Closing the Gap is released today. After lengthy consultations with indigenous peak health bodies and with buy in from indigenous leaders and all state and territory governments, the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, is declaring it a new chapter in efforts to improve the lives and opportunities for First Nations peoples. Ken Wyatt is the Minister for Indigenous Australians. He joins us from our Parliament House studios. Ken Wyatt, welcome back to breakfast.

Minister Wyatt Good morning. Good to be with you, Fran.

Fran Kelly These are new targets and we will come to some of them, Minister, but it's the the process for implementing these targets that's the biggest change. What is different here?

Minister Wyatt Well, I think the front-end activity that we embarked on was to make sure that it was shared decision making, that we worked together to identify what the targets would be to make a difference on the lives of Indigenous Australians. But it involved not just the Commonwealth, State and Territory officials and the 51 peak Aboriginal organisations and they worked through the agreement clause by clause. And when they reached an agreement between all of them, then that was the first step. The second is building the capacity of community organisations and community controlled organisations. The third is looking at the way in which government agencies in all of our jurisdictions interact with our people. And fourthly, a commitment to data sharing so that we have informed decisions being made locally and the way it shapes policy for the future.

Fran Kelly OK, let's break that down a bit. The two major changes there is the fact that the peak organisations were involved in in drawing these out line by line, working out what the targets should be that are most relevant and important, but also building the capacity. Let's come to that in a minute but let's deal with the states first because State and Federal government involvement here is new, isn't it? Is it fair to say that the first set of Closing the Gap targets set by Kevin Rudd in 2008 failed? Largely. We only hit two of them, I think, because there was little buy-In from the various state and territory governments, which actually not just fund many of these policies around education, health, but they implement them, too. Was that a sort of a glaring gap that needed to be fixed before anything?

Minister Wyatt I think the glaring gap was accountability. Certainly, the former prime  minister reached agreement with each state and territory on the targets, but the responsibility fell primarily to the Commonwealth. And that's why the Commonwealth always reported on

Closing the Gap in the federal parliament. The new arrangement means we are all accountable and so each state and territory will now report in their own parliaments what their gains have been against the 16 targets. The Commonwealth will also provide an aggregated national response. But what's the change in these two is the way in which we will be accountable in concert with Aboriginal people within each of the jurisdictions and with the Commonwealth. The role of the peaks in also scrutinising that accountability but they also  will be reporting on their achievements and that all round approach is important. But the other element that's different this time is local government is now part of the process.

Fran Kelly Can we talk about the notion of accountability? Because the role of the indigenous groups, as we mentioned in this process is radical change. They're going to be not just brought into the discussions and the impetus to design and designing of policies and be shared the data which allows them to do that better. But as you say, yours are going to be building the capacity of indigenous organisations so that they can deliver. How will you do that? I understand there's no new funding around this so how is that going to happen to make sure that the indigenous groups that are going to be given the job in many cases of      leading the policy implementation to change to close the gap? How they're going to be empowered to do that?

Minister Wyatt Well, the process will mean that the way in which governments now develop policy and I said this right from the beginning when I first came into the portfolio - policy will not be developed in my office. It will be developed in partnership with the Aboriginal community. Now, the 51 peaks have identified key and critical areas that they believe will make a difference to the lives of our people at the community level and certainly across the nation. And on that basis, we will work together as to what the programmes will look like, how they'll be implemented. But equally, we will need the voices of people at the Aboriginal community level to also influence the way in which we have to think about making a difference on the ground and the peaks will be resourced but those matters to do with funding are a separate process because we want to focus on the four pillars that are absolutely critical, that ensures collaborative approaches in the way in which we join up our            efforts to make a difference. In the past, we've been doing it individually and it has not been a concerted tripartite approach to resolving matters that have impacted on the lives of indigenous Australians.

Fran Kelly And that is obviously critical. And that's why Pat Turner, for instance, one of the Indigenous leaders of this clause by clause process you've been through, is hailing this as a game changer, this bringing - making it a tripartite approach. But some groups are concerned about the potential for blame shifting. For instance, the new one of the new targets that is being come to through this is to reduce the number of Indigenous, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children in out of home care by 45 per cent by 2031. Now, this is an important, critically important target, but that's tough to meet. Some are worried that if it's not reached, then it's the indigenous groups that will bear the blame for the failure. Do you understand that concern and how can you reassure them?

Minister Wyatt Well, what I was to say is that the responsibility sits with all three groups, the Commonwealth, the state and territory governments and the organisations. But this process will require us to identify one of those things that we can do to prevent children entering that process that leads to out-of-home care. That's the front-end work we've agreed to do further work on. But the other component is what are the outcomes that means children are back within their communities with kinship family structures. But at the same time equally are protected from whatever it was that caused the concern about their welfare and safety. And nobody will be blamed. This is about how we make gains and celebrate those gains but continue to work stridently to achieving the targets.

Fran Kelly And that one of those four pillars you mentioned. I go to it again, building the capacity of the Indigenous groups and communities to deliver to work on and deliver these changes to help make them happen. I mean, how are you going to build that capacity on the ground for the groups who are dealing on the frontline with, you know, out-of-home care?

Minister Wyatt I'll use the analogy of all of us putting our shoulder to the wheel at the same time recognising the primacy of particular peak organisations who over many years have developed knowledge and skills around approaches. Part of that building capacity is for governments to listen and look at solutions and in some instances, for state and territory governments to resource initiatives that will enable Aboriginal organisations to be effective in delivering the outcome that we're all seeking by the three of us working closely. It means it's a combined effort. But the other layer that I have overlooked is in that statement is local governments, because the Australian Local Government Association are also a signatory to this agreement, which ties in local governments. So there are now four real key partners, but they have to base their work around the co-design and working with Aboriginal organisations and communities in finding those solutions, it might be location based as well.

Fran Kelly So they have to be accountable for actually making these partnerships work. You're listening to RN Breakfast. Our guest is the federal Indigenous affairs minister, Ken Wyatt. Minister, one of the new and long overdue targets is to reduce the rate of Indigenous adults held in incarceration by at least 15 per cent. This compares with the earlier goal of a five per cent reduction by 2028. How's that going to happen when so many recommendations from previous inquiries, even the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody, which is nearly 30 years ago, hasn't pulled on the change. In fact, numbers have almost doubled since then.

Minister Wyatt Yeah, they have. And part of the discussions that we've had with state and territory jurisdictions and through the officials working group, they've been looking at what are the opportunities for doing this. And already WA, for example, has removed the legislation sorry, they've implemented legislation that removes the mandatory sentencing of people who default on fines. Now, that really impacts on a number of Indigenous women who may report a domestic violence incident suddenly discovered there is a bench warrant. They're incarcerated, which leaves their children vulnerable. The Attorney, and I compliment the Attorney-General on removing that impediment. Victoria is thinking about a couple of initiatives that have been shared with me but I'll I won't cover that in detail. So we will see states starting to look at what is some of those causative factors that see the higher incarceration rates and for juveniles what I suspect we'll see is diversion from out of incarceration pathways but I think we've got to go back to the early years of life.

Fran Kelly Just on the juveniles, I mean, there's an opportunity. We're talking this week, in fact, the Attorney-General's about the age of criminality. And, you know, there's pressure for it to be raised here in Australia to 14. Wouldn't that help keep young, mostly indigenous kids under the age of 14 out of detention? Wouldn't that be a good place to start?

Minister Wyatt It will be. And I have been liaising closely with the Attorney-General, Christian Porter, and he is working on this issue with state and State Attorney-General's to achieve this outcome and they're progressing work. And I'm waiting to see what the outcome is but, look, it's a logical place to start.

Fran Kelly And Ken, just finally, there was going to be a recommendation I thought was discussed about a commitment to reduce the proportion of indigenous women and girls aged 15 and older who've experienced violence in the past by 50 percent by 2031. That's not in the list. Why not?

Minister Wyatt Actually, it's still in consideration. What the Peaks and the working group went through as they looked at the target from before - it was only physical violence. What do they want to do is more work on sexual abuse, financial violence, psychological violence and the social emotional wellbeing elements. And they will come back with a target. So that has not slipped off the radar at all. It's just that they've phrased it in a way that requires further work to refine and set a target that can be achieved.

Fran Kelly Ken Wyatt, thank you very much for joining us and good luck with these targets in implementing this. Closing the Gap is what we need to do. We've been trying since 2008.
Still a lot of work to do. Thank you.

Minister Wyatt We have. Thank you very much, Fran.

Fran Kelly Ken Wyatt is the Minister for Indigenous Australians on the new Closing the Gap targets that will be released later this morning with a whole new way of implementing them, this tripartite agreement.