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Closing the Gap Refresh

The submission to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in relation to the Closing the Gap Refresh Discussion Paper (Discussion Paper) was prepared by the Law Council. 

This submission has benefitted from input provided by Law Council Constituent Bodies, in addition to its Indigenous Legal Issues Committee, and through the Law Council’s ongoing involvement with the Change the Record Coalition.

With regard to the latter, the Law Council endorses the submission put forward by Change the Record and supports the recommendations it has put forward as part of this consultation.

The Law Council notes that in 2007, COAG pledged to close key gaps in outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. In 2008, Australian Governments committed to specific targets for reducing inequalities in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life expectancy, mortality, education and employment. A seventh target to close the gap in school attendance was added in 2014.

The Prime Minister’s 2018 Closing the Gap annual report to parliament showed that while progress has been made on the Closing the Gap targets, only three targets are on track.1 Furthermore, four of the targets are set to expire in 2018, three of which appear unlikely to be achieved in this timeframe.

There are heightened calls to reassess current targets and introduce new ones where necessary, to ensure that tangible progress is made to closing the gaps in all areas of inequality and removing the entrenched levels of disadvantage experienced by many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities, particularly within the context of legal and justice outcomes.

A notable absence in the Closing the Gap framework relates to targets that address Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s experiences with the Australian criminal justice system, for example, high incarceration rates and disproportionate levels of violence towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Further, there is an identifiable absence of targets within the strategy that address the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children and young people in the child protection system. While several underlying factors relating these issues have been accounted for in the Closing the Gap framework, to date, no targets have been set to address these issues.

It is submitted that substantive progress towards the existing Closing the Gap strategy, and the development of new targets will require a commitment to principles of selfdetermination, and a recognition that government must negotiate and co-design the future strategy and its indicators with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community controlled organisations.

The Law Council has considered the Discussion Paper in relation to how the Closing the Gap agenda could be improved to better support the needs and aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. The Discussion Paper poses a number of specific questions, which this submission addresses.

You can read the submission below.

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