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State of the environment report highlights need for improved action under the National Agreement on Closing the Gap

As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, we have been saying for a long time that we need to have a much greater say in how programs and services are delivered to our people, in our own places, and on our own country. The Australia State of the Environment Report 2021, released last week, reiterates the importance of this.

Among the confronting findings, the report found that governments need to embrace Indigenous knowledge and Caring for Country principles, and that Indigenous people need to be more empowered to share knowledge on our terms.

“The State of the Environment Report’s findings are shocking, but they’re not surprising”, says Coalition of Peaks Lead Convener Patricia Turner AM. “Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisations see the impacts of colonisation on our Country every day.

“Our people aren’t involved enough in decision-making on key environmental and heritage issues, to the detriment of the environment.

“The National Agreement on Closing the Gap outlines formal partnership and shared decision-making, and clearly this mindset needs to be extended to environmental and heritage issues as well”, Ms Turner said.

The findings paint a grim picture for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people:

  • Indigenous people continue to be impacted by poor access to water, constraints on cultural food collection and burning practices, and inadequate protection of Indigenous cultural and intellectual property (pg. 121).
  • Environmental changes are affecting the abundance and distribution of culturally significant native plants and animals and threatening the persistence and application of cultural knowledge and people’s cultural connections to Country and Indigenous wellbeing (pg. 17).
  • Data and lack of access to data have been identified as key limitations to Indigenous self-determination. Much knowledge and other Indigenous data have been collected by government, universities and research agencies, and Indigenous people call for greater access to, and control over, their data (pg. 123).
  • Indigenous people’s wellbeing is intrinsically connected with Country. Changes in Country alter and disrupt Indigenous people’s connection with land, seas, plants, and animals. Mining and agriculture have been identified by Indigenous people as causing degradation to Country. Destruction of Indigenous heritage is detrimental to Indigenous people (pg. 74).

“The report found that Australia’s environment is poorer because of lack of Indigenous leadership, knowledge, and management. We’ve been caring for Country for 65,000+ years – it’s time to listen to what we have to say”, said Ms Turner.

The report also found that ongoing and intergenerational impact and trauma of colonisation continues to adversely affect Indigenous people’s connection to Country and manifests in unacceptable rates of imprisonment, suicide, and unemployment.

“This report shows unequivocally that our connection to Country is vital to our wellbeing. We will never close the gap and reach the socio-economic targets in the National Agreement without governments acknowledging our deep, cultural connections to Country”, Ms Turner said.

Find out more about the National Agreement on Closing the Gap and its socio-economic targets at

Media contact: Clare Butterfield, Communications Manager, 0429 098 613