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No nearer to closing the gap
The defeat of the Morrison Government and a successful Fair Funding Now! campaign at the upcoming federal election will be critical to narrowing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples across many, if not all, of the targets of the Closing the Gap strategy.
Since the commencement of the strategy in 2008, successive federal and state governments have been tasked with the responsibility of leading and funding strategies to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations in education, health, mortality, life expectancy and employment.
The 2019 Closing the Gap report handed down by Prime Minister Scott Morrison detailed the failure of Australian governments to close or narrow the gap. Incredibly, the depth of this failure in real terms is masked by the fact that the Federal Government pushed out the goal dates and lowered target expectations midway through the 11 years of the Closing the Gap strategy.
In addition, former prime minister and now Mr Morrison’s special envoy on Indigenous affairs, Tony Abbott, delivered the first funding blow to the Closing the Gap strategy. His government’s 2014 Budget cut $530 million from Indigenous affairs. Successive Budgets since, including under the prime ministerships of Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison, have never restored this funding.
The suffering of generations of First Peoples at the hands of government inaction and funding cuts is at the centre of the widening gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations.
Federation policy lays the foundation for Australian governments should they be committed to closing the gap. Public education teachers have long advocated improvements in critical areas that would directly benefit Aboriginal students and their families. The public provision of Aboriginal education for all would significantly contribute to closing the gap through policy objectives such as:
- Fair Funding Now! for all public schools
- improved permanent school staffing
- employment of additional Aboriginal teachers
- investment in statewide system support for teaching and learning
- rebuilding the TAFE system
- expanding the provision of public preschools, early intervention units and early intervention strategies and working more closely with other government bodies such as the Department of Health
- expanding the provision of teacher professional learning and student wellbeing programs to assist all Aboriginal students and those with disability across all settings
- broadening and strengthening curriculum offerings for Aboriginal students with disability
- achieving the goals within Federation’s policy Aboriginal Education – 25 Year Approach: The Way Forward
- greater support to rebuild Indigenous languages and deeper understanding of the importance of culture including working with NESA and ACARA to enable meaningful incorporation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives in all aspects of teaching and learning by equipping all teachers with deep knowledge of the histories and cultures of Australia’s First Peoples.
A commitment to closing the gap does not necessarily require new ideas, but rather the political will of all Australian governments to fully fund and implement existing strategies.
Despite the failure of Australian governments to fulfil their responsibilities to close the gap, the public education system, its teachers and staff, can stand proud for upholding a leadership role supporting Aboriginal students, their families and communities and for ensuring that Aboriginal education for all students is a priority.
Members are strongly urged to sign up to the Fair Funding Now! campaign (fairfundingnow.org.au), sign family and friends and ensure their vote contributes to the defeat of the Morrison Government on election day.
Henry Rajendra Senior Vice President
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