What a disappointment the refreshed Closing the Gap targets are.
The Howard government began turning Indigenous policy away from government, bureaucratic-community-led solutions towards self-reliance via economic participation. Labor continued this focus, adopting the Closing the Gap initiative with measurable targets. The Abbott Coalition government put this all on steroids with an Indigenous Advancement Strategy, stripped back to core focus areas of jobs, business creation, community safety and education.
In just over 12 months, the new Minister and his bureaucrats are taking us back decades, to the days when it was all about public servants and “peak bodies” acting like glorified mission managers. School attendance targets abandoned. Employment targets that admit defeat from the start and incarceration and foster care targets that will put Indigenous lives at risk.
These protagonists won’t be around in 2031 to be held accountable for their inevitable failure. And I know the outcome will be a failure, because these targets don’t drive the right behaviours.
There’s a target to reduce Indigenous adult incarceration by at least 15 percent by 2031. Who needs 10 years? We could do it tomorrow by releasing 15 percent of Indigenous prisoners. Send them back to their communities. Target achieved. Never mind most are there for homicide, sexual assault or acts intended to cause violence.
Likewise, the target to reduce the Indigenous children in out-of-home care. You could achieve that tomorrow, too, by sending Indigenous foster kids back to abusive, neglectful families.
This won’t solve problems for Indigenous people. It will make things worse.
Look at what happened to Kiesha Weippeart, a six-year-old Aboriginal girl from Western Sydney, whose mother and stepfather are now in jail in connection with her murder. Her whole life in and out of foster care and subjected to physical abuse, Kiesha was sent back to her mother because of the bleeding heart mentality that thinks reducing the number of Indigenous kids in foster care is a worthy goal, in and of itself. She’d be alive today if she’d stayed in foster care. I pity the children who’ll now be left in abusive homes to meet this stupid target.
The Black Lives Matter movement talks about 434 Indigenous deaths in custody since 1991 as if there have been 434 killings of Indigenous people by police and corrective services officers. Actually, almost all died of natural causes, or by their own hand or actions (including accidents). They ignore the 951 homicides with Indigenous victims between 1989 and 2012, representing 13 percent of all Australian homicides. Where’s the outcry and the marches for these Black lives?
They also ignore Indigenous women being over 35 times more likely to be hospitalised for family violence assaults; 95 times in Central Australia. And Indigenous women being five times more likely to be victims of homicide, most from family violence.
But, while there are specific, numerical targets to reduce the punishment for violence, there are meaningless weasel words that there be “a significant and sustained reduction” in violence “towards zero”. How much of a reduction and by when?
Incarceration and foster care are the consequences of violence, reoffending, child abuse and drug and alcohol addiction stemming from a complete breakdown in some families and communities rooted in chronic intergenerational welfare dependence and lack of economic participation. Solve that and you solve the rest.
What we need are a few simple targets over a shorter period that deal with the root causes of the problems.
Start with a target that all Indigenous children are attending school 90 percent of the time, the critical threshold for effective education, within five years. No other target will be achieved without this. Every government, bureaucrat, agency and “peak body” involved in the refreshed targets should hang their heads in shame for endorsing no school attendance targets at all.
We need targets for parity in literacy (in English and traditional languages) and numeracy within five years.
We need targets for safe communities within five years by reducing crime, especially violence, reoffending and property damage. And employment of Indigenous police, including training the many Indigenous “police liaisons” to be fully-fledged officers. Forget about incarceration and foster care. They’ll reduce if you improve family and community safety.
We need a target for employment parity within five years, including in remote communities. Achieve this through investment and creation of businesses, especially self-employed and small businesses, and through training and education.
Pat Turner, who has the ear of Minister Ken Wyatt, suggested employment could be improved by hiring more people in Indigenous community-controlled organisations. So hire people that aren’t needed, in jobs funded by the government, rather than encourage participation in the real economy. Who do you think pays for this?
In my travels through developing countries in Asia, I was struck by the number of “busywork” jobs. In one airport, one person checked my passport, a second gave me a card, and a third inspected the card and took it back. I saw people employed to wave red, amber and green flags – standing next to the traffic lights.
Pointless jobs are government welfare by another name. That’s not how you build a real economy.
The Indigenous activist class and the woke left speak of truth talking. I agree. It’s time we hear the full truth about these issues – about the underlying problems that are actually driving the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians – and about what the real solutions are.
Nyunggai Warren Mundine AO is managing director of Nyungga Black Group and author of Speaking My Mind – Common Sense Answers for Australia. Mundine’s Truth Talking broadcasts regularly via Webinar and on his Facebook page www.facebook.com/nyunggai