Thursday, July 30, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Closing the Gap 2.0
New targets for Indigenous advancement need to be matched by funding

Image of Coalition of Peaks lead convener Pat Turner, Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt and Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a press conference

Coalition of Peaks lead convener Pat Turner, Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt and Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a press conference on July 30, 2020. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP 

The terrible news of the pandemic’s deadliest day in Victoria overshadowed the announcement of a new National Agreement on Closing The Gap, but it did not extinguish hope that this time things could really be different. The new agreement is signed by a coalition of more than 50 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled peak organisations; federal, state and territory governments; and the Australian Local Government Association. As was widely flagged in the media, the agreement includes 16 new “Closing the Gap” targets for Indigenous advancement, replacing those set under the Rudd government in 2008. At a joint press conference in Canberra alongside Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt, the convenor of the Coalition of Peaks, Pat Turner, said that, notwithstanding the huge effort involved in setting the new targets, “The real hard work starts tomorrow, as we begin the implementation of the national agreement in full partnership between governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, organisations and representatives.” 

The PM said that the new agreement had the full backing of the government and would have “a very meaningful impact on how we progress to ensure that young Indigenous boys and girls can grow up in this country with the same expectations as non-Indigenous boys and girls in this country”. He commended Wyatt and Turner for the practical nature of the agreement, adding, “This isn’t about buckets of money. This is about changing the way we do things and ensuring that we apply the resources most effectively to achieve that.” Although there was no new funding announced today, Morrison acknowledged that there would eventually be a call on the federal budget. Turner cautioned that the document had to be read in detail, “because there are funding provisions that are already committed to in the national agreement, and they will come on board as we progress the important work now on the implementation plans”.

At a press conference this afternoon, shadow minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney welcomed the new targets and the partnership approach, based on self-determination, with the Coalition of Peaks, but said that “no one should underestimate the size of the task in front of us”. Burney said the targets should be backed by “money, action and accountability”, and reiterated that Labor remained committed to the Uluru Statement from the Heart “in its entirety, including truth-telling, including treaty-making and the constitutionally enshrined voice to the parliament”. 

As The Australian [$] reported a fortnight ago, a constitutionally enshrined voice to parliament is supported by 56 per cent of voters, but Wyatt has asked Indigenous leaders Marcia Langton and Tom Calma to oversee the co-design of a “voice to government” that would be established by legislation, rather than the Constitution. Wyatt said today that “work is continuing” and three consultative groups were “reaching a point at which they are considering models for government to consider”. 

The PM this afternoon thanked Tony Abbott for shaping his thinking on Indigenous issues. After drastic funding cuts and an out-of-hand rejection of the voice to parliament, there are obvious dangers in taking either Morrison or Wyatt at their word. Morrison spoke of “shared responsibility”, but that could well translate to Aboriginal organisations with no new money or powers being made responsible for historical inequalities and present-day problems.

“Even since we put this update to government, things have deteriorated in a major state. Further constraints, be they through [people] movement or through the extension of the six-week measures that the Victorian government announced, will mean growth will be lower, employment will be lower and unemployment will be higher.”

Treasury secretary Steven Kennedy effectively tells the Senate select committee on COVID-19 that last week’s economic statement already looks overly optimistic. He expects the economy to contract by 7 per cent in the June quarter.

“In one instance, the department invoked a section of the Freedom of Information Act that prevented release if information would ‘cause damage to the security of the Commonwealth’.”

The prime minister’s department has refused to release 1100 documents linked to the COVID-19 commission’s discussion of gas projects and 690 documents about potential conflicts of interest.

Coronavirus and the rise of ‘zombie charities’
With volunteers staying at home due to COVID-19 and donations drying up, there are serious concerns about the viability of Australia’s charity sector. Today, Mike Seccombe on the challenges charities are facing, and what we might lose if they collapse.

The number of days since Labor first called for paid pandemic leave, according to Opposition leader Anthony Albanese.

“The integrity of water markets also needs improving, with insufficient regulatory oversight of some market participants, including brokers and investors. Water brokers, exchange platforms and other intermediaries have no industry-specific regulation, meaning brokers’ roles are often unclear and their interests can diverge from those of their clients. There are very few rules to prevent market manipulation or similar conduct, and no regulator charged with monitoring trading behaviour in water markets.”

The interim report of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s water markets inquiry calls for major change in the Murray–Darling Basin.

The list

“I have lived my song cycle and I have done what I can to translate the concepts of the Yolngu world into the reality of my life. I have endured much change and seen many different faces – I have watched both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal leaders move in and out. And of course I have mixed feelings when I reflect on my life’s work. I feel a deep sadness at times, yet I know that I have done much that is useful. I know that I have secured my family’s birthright – we will not drift off with the tide; we will stand and endure, and our names will pass down through the decades and the centuries.”

“Our fear of death allows governments to remove freedoms and overspend billions protecting us from terrorism, while simultaneously exposing us to the risk of climate change. It’s easier, and politically more valuable, to prioritise a tiny number of potential high-profile deaths today over an enormous number of likely deaths in the future. Economists have a term for this phenomenon: it’s called discounting. When comparing the value of future lives with current ones, the value of those yet to be born is literally ‘discounted’. While the morality of this is widely accepted among economists, the size of the ‘discount rate’ for future lives is hotly contested.”

“When I came out of prison, I noticed there was a concerted censoring of my voice every single time I wanted to speak out about my experiences within the criminal punishment system. This came at me in many ways – aggressively, subtly and, at times, very publicly. Most obviously, and I dare say predictably, the system didn’t like me publicly raising its violence and brutality. Like every abusive relationship, it thrives on silence.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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