Closing the gap. Why not focus on what works?


The Productivity Commission’s Report on the difficulties of ‘Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage’ showed mixed results for the ‘Closing the Gap’ project. The phrase itself is problematic because it fails to acknowledge (and factor in as a cause) the inability of the mainstream to recognise the contributions, strengths and wisdom of Aboriginal Australia in finding solutions. The report brought out a flurry of government and media responses that framed the causes as Indigenous deficits. These responses reinforce governments’ assumptions that the faults are with the intransigence of the communities, so they push proposals to cut booze and mandate healthy food in the outback stores. This ignores the deeper problems that need attention, such as questions of how services are delivered and what is really needed.

The media and politicos usually ignore the mainstream mistakes that add to the difficulties Indigenous communities face. Closing the Indigenous gap was never going to be easy, but their responses will unfortunately make it harder by reinforcing the widespread view that nothing has worked. Productivity Commission Chairman, Gary Banks, was obviously not pleased with the media response. He stated, ‘In the report’s analysis of successful Indigenous programs, four factors stand out: co-operation between Indigenous people and government; bottom up community involvement; ongoing government support; and good governance, within Indigenous communities and within government.’ Banks’ overview on p8 of the Report says ‘The main report includes many examples of things that work – activities and programs that are making a difference, often at the community level.’

I would suggest that much of what has been done by Governments, particularly over the last few years, has been top down and short term. It has not been based on Banks’ four factors, so blaming the victims is wrong. No media report raises the questions of what we/ the Governments/ the wider society might be doing wrong. There are scads of evidence to show that it is not the spending of money that works, but how it is done. The last government both verbally trashed the views of many Indigenous communities and removed their semi-independent voice, so advice is lacking. 

Evidence based inputs are badly needed, and might lead to better policies!

Further reading on what’s working:

Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research

IATSIS and The Australian Collaboration – Successful strategies in indigenous organisations:……

Cooperative research centre for Aboriginal health

Indigenous Justice Clearinghouse

FAHCSIA: The Directory of Indigenous-specific Evaluations 2002-2007…

The Directory of Commonwealth Government Indigenous Research…

Working Group for Aboriginal Rights (WGAR) on the problems of government policy