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Brisbane Aboriginal woman has high hopes for new Closing the Gap agreement

Cynthia Rowan: “I liked the wording ‘treated as equal around the table’ and that’s a challenge for government to share that authority with other people.”

BIRRA Gubba woman Cynthia Rowan, has high hopes for a revamped Closing the Gap agreement aimed at substantially improving life outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“I think it’s a great document, but it’s the implementation of it is going to be the challenge for service delivery to indigenous people,” Ms Rowan, a Bracken Ridge parishioner and long-time Church worker, said.

The agreement completely resets targets set in 2008 – which have largely failed to be met – and promises greater Indigenous involvement in leading target implementation and measuring progress.

The new Closing the Gap agreement sets 16 new targets to be achieved in the next 10 years – the result of government and indigenous organisations spending two years in consultation and a further year in negotiations.

For the first time, Australia will commit to reducing Indigenous imprisonment rates, suicides and child removals.

There are also targets for out-of-home care, land and sea rights, language and housing. The ambitious goal to reduce the number of Indigenous children in care by 45 per cent is a target that many in the Indigenous community have fought to include for decades.

The chief executive officer of the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency, Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Wurrung woman Muriel Bamblett, said the agreement would “tackle some of the really big issues that have never been tackled before”.

But the VACCA would have liked further targets included.

“We couldn’t address drug and alcohol, mental health and a lot of those other big issues that really contribute to Aboriginal children coming into care,” Ms Bamblett said.

Ms Rowan said for the new targets to succeed governments would need to empower and support community organisations to deliver services to indigenous people, where they lived.

“A place-based approach does work,” she said.

“I liked the wording ‘treated as equal around the table’ and that’s a challenge for government to share that authority with other people.”

She also endorses the new Closing the Gap emphasis on prioritising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, including increasing the number of indigenous languages spoken.

“Strong cultures… are fundamental to improving life outcomes,” the agreement said.

A new Closing the Gap target also demands a significant boost in tertiary education and higher levels of training and employment.

The youth training and employment target is 67 per cent.

For adults (25-64) the employment target is 62 per cent.

Ms Rowan, who is working on a project to roll out a reconciliation action plan across the Archdiocese of Brisbane, said in any workplace it was important to eliminate racism and promote cultural safety if indigenous workers were to be retained.

“Because that will determine whether someone stays in an organisation or not, and whether service delivery is effective,” she said.

“All the studies show that when you have an inclusive and respectful workplace, and where people are treated as equal, the productivity increases.”

In announcing the new Closing the Gap agreement on July 30, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the earlier 2008 targets failed in part because of a failure to partner with indigenous people.

“We told Indigenous Australians what the gap was that we were going to close — and somehow thought they should be thankful for that,” Mr Morrison said.

“That was wrong-headed. That wasn’t the way to do it.”

In a fundamental change the new agreement has been driven by Indigenous organisations, represented by the Coalition of Peaks.

More than 4,000 Indigenous people were heard during consultation.

“The Prime Minister probably didn’t fully realise what he was committing to, and possibly no government did — but maybe that was a good thing at the time,” Coalition of Peaks convenor Pat Turner said.

“Today we now have a comprehensive set of commitments from governments that places Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisations at the centre of Closing the Gap.

“The national agreement may not include everything our people want or need to make lasting change to our lives, but this is a huge step forward.”

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