“I wish the government understood that Closing the Gap actually requires listening to the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The treatment of First Australians has been and continues to be, the darkest chapter in Australian history. Yet, it is far too often met with cheap rhetoric and a failure to genuinely engage with the enormously complex social and institutional challenges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples continue to face.
The Close the Gap campaign has made significant progress and should be applauded for its successes, yet it has failed in many areas for precisely the same reason that numerous other efforts have – an unwillingness to listen. The federal government has long failed to engage with those voices that are most important in addressing systematic issues that are a product of centuries of racism, discrimination and cultural destruction against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
We need solutions developed and supported by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for their own communities. Successive governments have failed to genuinely engage with the important links between health and strong cultural and community identity. Community-centred approaches provide the foundation for dealing with the long-term impact that these tragic issues have. Such community approaches aren’t crafted in an office in Canberra, and nor should they be. The voices calling for a drastic change in how we work towards closing the gap have long been there, but have for too long been ignored.
When we talk about closing the gap, it’s also important not to forget how large that gap is. Youth suicide rates amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men are among the highest in the entire world. Aboriginal women are between 34-80 times more likely to experience domestic violence than their non-Aboriginal counterparts. These aren’t stats from a bygone era of our history that we’ve since corrected. This is Australia right now.
What I really wish the government knew is that my opinion on these issues isn’t the one they should be listening to. They should be listening to the views of those people whose voices have been ignored for far too long, and for whom these issues have a profound and devastating effect – Australia’s First Peoples.”