Australian Governments must re-pledge their commitment to work towards overcoming Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander disadvantage according to the Co-Chairs of Reconciliation Australia. Co-Chair Dr Tom Calma AO said it was essential that State and Territory Governments coordinate their efforts more effectively with the Federal Government and keep the political momentum going.
“We have seen small but significant gains in the health and education indicators for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people but much more needs to be done before Australia can claim true equity in opportunity between First Peoples and other Australians,” said Dr Calma.
“The success of the Tackling Indigenous Smoking campaign in reducing the high Indigenous smoking rates shows what can be achieved when Governments work in real partnerships with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector and this must be the model for effective work in other areas.”
“Programs aimed at closing the gap must be informed by evidence of what works, based on partnerships with strong Indigenous community leadership and rigorously evaluated to ensure effectiveness.” Dr Calma said that two areas of great concern where little progress was evident were the rates of incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the high incidence of suicide.
“One indicator of success in achieving parity in opportunity between Australians is the rate of incarceration. The current situation clearly suggests that we are not having the necessary impact in this area,” he said. “For example, in the past 12 months the imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women has increased by nearly 12%, a stark reminder of how much hard work we still have in front of us.”
“Suicide rates continue to blight our communities and break the hearts of countless families with an impact that is nothing short of devastating and must become part of how we measure the effectiveness of close the gap programs,” he said.
Dr Calma said he was encouraged with the increasing public support for closing the gap efforts pointing to the more than 1250 community events registered for today’s Close the Gap Day.
Co-Chair, Melinda Cilento, said that closing the gap was a prerequisite to real national reconciliation. “Reconciliation Australia’s vision is for a reconciled, just and equitable Australia and all our key work is aimed at achieving equity, particularly in education, employment and reducing the insidious impact of racism.
“Our RAP program in particular is producing great results; our most recent evaluation of the program found that RAP organisations employed 25, 755 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, have purchased $81 million worth of goods and services from Aboriginal-owned businesses and provided $37.8 million towards education scholarships for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
“We are seeing consistent incremental change that is strongly supported by the Australian public and increasingly by the private sector and it is critical that Governments maintain their focus on closing the gap and investing in effective programs and partnerships,” said Ms Cilento.