Minding the gap
For once, really important targets are making a difference
Even if they have become an “annual statement of failure”, as The Australian reports [$] today, the Closing the Gap targets could be said to be working if they ratchet up the pressure on the rest of us, and make us uncomfortable.
On their tenth anniversary, the Closing the Gap targets have never had more attention. But a decade is not a long time to turn around seven generations of dispossession, discrimination and entrenched disadvantage. The word “target” is itself managerial and trivialising. We expect politicians and bureaucrats to miss targets. But Closing the Gap is a matter of life and death. We must not miss.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s line, which he mentioned several times in his speech today, is that from now on we must do things “with Indigenous Australians and not to them”; at this stage this is nothing more than a serviceable bit of rhetoric. It is certainly the case that a lack of consultation with Indigenous people was a key reason given by the Closing the Gap steering committee as to why we are falling short of those 2030 targets. Indigenous ownership and control of programs on health and education, for example, is a key determinant of their success. Unfortunately, the PM’s summary rejection of last year’s Uluru Statement from the Heart has shattered any trust in or goodwill towards the government on Indigenous issues. Whether he means well or not, Turnbull will not be taken at his word. So the PM will get little credit for his announcement today of another inquiry into constitutional recognition, this time by a joint select committee.
Kevin Rudd is right that Turnbull’s process to “refresh” the Closing the Gap targets must not water them down. We should not move the goalposts – and certainly not in such a way that we turn what is a necessarily painful examination into an occasion for self-congratulation, in which white Australia pats itself on the back for a series of affordable but token achievements.
Rudd told Fran Kelly on RN Breakfast this morning that John Howard created a “false dichotomy” between the symbolic and concrete dimensions of reconciliation. It’s not an either/or proposition – Australia can and must do both.
In his National Press Club speech today, Rudd complained that he had not been able to work out a simple number: exactly how much has been cut from Indigenous programs under the Abbott and Turnbull governments?
Certainly the half a billion dollars in cuts in the 2014 budget, fingered by the Closing the Gap report last week, and the botched implementation of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, expose the bad faith of Tony Abbott, so-called prime minister for Indigenous Affairs.
Not that Rudd’s own track record is unblemished. An excellent piece by New Matilda’s Chris Graham over the weekend pointed out that Rudd, whose legacy as PM is bolstered by the national apology to the Stolen Generations, has been much more forthright on Indigenous issues since he lost office. When he was PM, Rudd flatly opposed compensation to surviving members of the Stolen Generations, opposing bills introduced first by Democrat (now Green) Andrew Barlett and the Greens’ Rachel Siewert. Bill Shorten promised, in his own Closing the Gap response today, that Labor, if elected, would provide compensation to Stolen Generations survivors in Commonwealth territories – ACT, NT and Jervis Bay in NSW. He estimated there were 150 such people; the PM in Question Time today responded there were more like 500. Either way, it is too little too late. In the New Matilda article, Graham contrasts our preparedness to quickly apologise to and compensate survivors of sexual abuse identified by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, with our absolute reluctance, dragged out over decades, to compensate the Stolen Generations.
But ten years later, the Closing the Gap process that Rudd launched is dragging white Australia, kicking and screaming, to face up to the worst in our history.
since this morning
The Barnaby Joyce affair is snowballing today; the prime minister’s office has rejected claims that the deputy PM breached the ministerial code of conduct, because former staffer Vikki Campion was not his “partner” at the time she was hired by fellow Nationals.
On its first day in Melbourne, the banking royal commission has disclosed that its first hearings will be into consumer credit, and commissioner Kenneth Hayne has back-flipped [$] on a warning against financial services victims or whistleblowers breaching gag orders.
in case you missed it
An inquiry into the NSW RSL has recommended disgraced former president Don Rowe be referred to police.
The Age has conducted a six-month investigation into the finances of the Catholic Church in Australia, finding it has concealed or undervalued assets worth some $30 billion.
In media moves, the AFR’s Walkley Award-winning Laura Tingle has been appointed as chief political correspondent for the ABC’s 7.30 program, while former Lateline journalist and fellow Walkley winner Ginny Stein is reportedly [$] fighting her involuntary redundancy at the ABC.
Paddy Manning is a contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly. He is a writer and journalist who has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and the Australian. He is also the author of three books, including Boganaire: The rise and fall of Nathan Tinkler.
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