New National Agreement on Closing the Gap marks historic shift to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ life outcomes

Ethan FrenchCoalition Of Peaks, Feature, News

The National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) which has a membership of 143 community-controlled health services in every jurisdiction of Australia has strongly welcomed the launch of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap.  The Agreement has now been signed by the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled peak organisations, all Australian Governments, and the Australian Local Government Association. 

The National Agreement signals a turning point in the relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and governments – one that is based on shared decision making on policies and programs that impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s lives.

The partnership that the Peaks sought was agreed to by Australian Governments and subsequently the Coalition of Peaks, including NACCHO, signed an historic National Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap.  That provided a platform to develop a new National Agreement on Closing the Gap which replaces the former National Indigenous Reform Agreement, agreed to only by Australian Governments in 2008.  The new Agreement breaks with the past because it was negotiated and agreed to by representatives of our people too.

We have also had the voices of the more than 4000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who participated in our engagements on what should be included in the new National Agreement guiding us in our negotiations. We needed to collectively show Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that they have been heard.

NACCHO is pleased to see the National Agreement includes a new commitment to increase the amount of government funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs and services going through Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisations.

NACCHO Chair Donnella Mills said, “The National Agreement is such a momentous time for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It is the first time a National Agreement designed to improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has been developed and negotiated between Australian governments, local government, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives. This will be a game-changer as we will be at the table discussing the issues and policies that matter to us.

“The National Agreement is built on four priority reforms to address ongoing critical issues around the social determinants of health such as housing, environment, access to health services, education and others with justice being a new target in there.

“We have worked with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities for decades on matters that are important to our people and are best placed to represent areas like health, early childhood, education, land and legal services.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Health Organisations deliver healthcare services that are holistic, comprehensive, and culturally competent and better for our people. They get better outcomes and they employ more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The new National Agreement is a commitment from all governments to fundamentally change the way they work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and organisations through four Priority Reforms that were overwhelmingly supported during the community engagements led by the Coalition of Peaks late last year.

The Priority Reforms commit governments to new partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across the country; strengthen community-controlled organisations to deliver closing the gap services; address structural racism within government agencies and organisations; and improve sharing of data and information with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations to support shared decision making. 

Donnella Mills said, “The National Agreement commits governments and the Coalition of Peaks to building strong Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled sectors and organisations to deliver Closing the Gap services and programs. The first four sector strengthening plans will be developed for early childhood care and development, housing, health, and disability within 12 months.

“We are pleased that governments are putting in funding to support Priority Reform Two. This funding will help build and strengthen the community-controlled sectors to deliver services and programs to our people.

“NACCHO has been working on this new National Agreement on Closing the Gap, as a member of the Coalition of Peaks. This agreement belongs to all of us!”

The National Agreement does not include everything that the Coalition of Peaks wanted, nor everything that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have said is needed to improve their lives. Whilst the National Agreement does not include everything our people need, the Coalition of Peaks have pushed governments well beyond what they were prepared to commit to on their own when the Council of Australian Governments met in December 2018. The National Agreement is stronger because the Coalition of Peaks has been at the negotiating table.

The National Agreement and the work of the Coalition of Peaks complements the efforts led by First Nations people across the country to improve the life outcomes of our people, including the implementation of the Uluru Statement of the Heart through a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament.

The work of the Coalition of Peaks is one part of a much bigger picture, of what has come before us and what still needs to be done. As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, we are standing on the shoulders of giants, our ancestors. They are our strength in all that we do. It is their work before us that has made today possible. We continue to do what we can to honour them with our actions as we work for a brighter future for our people.

To read the full new National Agreement on Closing the Gap, head to the Coalition of Peaks website: http://coalitionofpeaks.org.au/final-national-agreement-on-closing-the-gap/

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