Statement on Close the Gap Agreement

14 September 2020

I welcome the Government’s commitment to addressing inequality between Indigenous Australians and the broader Australian population. This agreement is timely given the Black Lives Matter movement and it is pleasing to see formal acknowledgement that more needs to be done 

However, the most fundamental gap remains – the one that exists in our Constitution.  

This latest agreement ignores the one thing that many Indigenous say would make the biggest difference, implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart including Constitutional recognition and the establishment of a Voice to Parliament.  

Only through these mechanisms will Indigenous Australians achieve the empowerment and ability to speak truth to fix the many gaps that have been created since colonisation of this continent.  

Eminent Indigenous Australians including Professor Megan Davis, Pro Vice Chancellor of Indigenous and Law Professor at UNSW, Noel Pearson, Cape York Institute Director and Roy-Ah-See, Non-Executive Director of the Indigenous Business Council Australia each said that there was consensus delivered by Indigenous people contained in the Uluru Statement which called for real, lasting and practical change through a Voice to Parliament.  

This recognition will underpin the Indigenous people’s right to true self determination empowering not only those represented by the body of peaks but the broader Indigenous community. Professor Davis has pointed out that "the only way to achieve this is through structural reform to give Indigenous Australians some power over the decisions that are made about us”. I spoke in Parliament during the last sitting week about the importance of full implementation of the Uluru Statement and called on the Government to commit to a date for the referendum.  

In the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, the target regarding incarceration is tellingly the least ambitious at 15% reduction by 2031, much more is needed. A first step is to raise the age of criminality, children who currently enter the system below the age of 14 are three times more likely to offend as adultsMandatory sentencing for non-violent crime should also be repealed.  

It is concerning that in the same week as this report was released, the Government refused to raise the age of criminal responsibility despite being called on by legal experts and human rights organisations. Raising the age from just 10 years to 14 years of age is in line with UN recommendations. I spoke to the importance of this last year in Parliament. 

More than half of the young people in detention are Indigenous Australians according to the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare.  

So, while I welcome this renewed commitment to closing the gap and the consultation with the Body of Peaks and the national cabinet. I again urge the Government to: 

  1. devise the question and publicly commit to a referendum on the Voice to Parliament without delay  
  1. the referendum to be put to the Australian people during 2021