Why We formed
The Coalition of Peaks came together to change the way Australian governments work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, organisations and communities on Closing the Gap.
The original Closing the Gap policy, agreed in 2008 by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), was a welcome step forward on a nationally coordinated effort to improve the lives of our people. Some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were able to have a say on what the policy was and its related programs, but there was never full ownership from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through their representatives and it was always considered to be an initiative of governments. In 2016, COAG was looking to update the Closing the Gap strategy. Our members were worried that Australian governments were going to agree again a new approach without our formal say and full involvement.
The original Closing the Gap strategy was agreed in 2008 by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). The way in which governments agreed to work together to achieve the targets was set out in a National Indigenous Reform Agreement (NIRA), signed by governments. Some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were able to have a say on what the policy was and its related programs, but there was never full ownership from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through their representatives and it was always considered to be an initiative of Governments.
The NIRA and the initial Closing the Gap commitment was welcomed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership. It included a significant amount of money to implement new programs and services. It also strengthened reporting requirements and accountability arrangements for national, state, territory and local governments to show whether progress was being made.
But the Closing the Gap strategy in the NIRA was only partially implemented in some areas and stopped in others. Efforts from governments to work together fell away and long-term funding for programs and services was not guaranteed or continued. There was also no ongoing commitment to involve communities, based on their own representation, in decisions about how targets could be achieved.
This has meant that progress on Closing the Gap in life outcomes has been disappointing. Too many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities continue to face poor life outcomes and are not getting the support they need.
As some of the initial targets were due to expire and progress was not what was hoped, in December 2016, COAG announced a “Refresh” of Closing the Gap and said they wanted to work in genuine partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in determining a new framework and targets.
However, it quickly became clear that governments were not listening properly or engaging in a genuine way. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled peak bodies wanted more time to consider the options, and more information on what was and wasn’t working. Most importantly, we needed to see that their voices were truly being heard. There was a real concern that governments had already decided what they wanted to do and were negotiating behind closed doors.
In early October 2018, a group of 14 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled peak organisations came together to write to the Prime Minister, Premiers and Chief Ministers to insist that COAG not agree any changes to Closing the Gap without formal input and support from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
The 14 peak organisations also asked for those representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to be able to negotiate and reach agreement on a new Closing the Gap strategy, and to have an ongoing formal role in its implementation.
At first, we didn’t get a response. We wrote a second letter and in frustration, went to the media. A breakthrough came when the Prime Minister met with us and agreed that we should have ownership and share in the decision making on Closing the Gap. The Prime Minister then took this back to COAG and got its agreement. This was the beginning of the Coalition of Peaks and the Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap.