Each year on the anniversary of the Apology to the Stolen Generations the Close the Gap Report is tabled in Parliament. Unfortunately, after millions of dollars of investment, most of the targets are struggling to close and some are in fact getting worse.

NACCHO Aboriginal Health News 2017
Figure 1: NACCHO Aboriginal Health News 2017 (Amended)

Since 2008 the Commonwealth and State Governments have been investing in seven key Close the Gap targets. Ten years on, the 2018 report card revealed that although three targets were on track the remaining targets were not or track or getting worse (Figure 1).

Some insights that I consider would transform this policy and more importantly assist empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to engage in a positive campaign to achieve well beyond the average. Let’s strive to Create a Gap instead.

Better than average
Figure 2: Better than average

Cease using deficit language

To do this let's immediately and forever cease using deficit language such as 'close the gap'. This flawed model will only ever result in our people achieving the average of our non-Indigenous counterparts. We must be more aspirational - by creating a gap! If you aim for a ten you may get an eight if you aim for an eight you will likely get a six (Figure 2).

Funding for outcomes

Secondly, after more than 20 years working with and for my people I'm convinced one of the keys to Creating a Gap is for funding for Indigenous programs to be directed to outcomes and not outputs (activities).This will accomplish the following consequences:

  1. Improve those programs that are currently not achieving optimal outcomes; and/or
  2. Make obsolete those programs that do not empower Indigenous people.

Measuring outcomes employs a theory of change, which shows the link between what is invested in a program, how it is used, and the short and longer term change created (Figure 3). These changes (impacts) can be robustly and repeatedly measured over time.

Funding on inputs, activities and outputs in isolation to the outcomes (short, medium and long term) has been and continues to be a flaw within many Indigenous specific programs.

Inputs Activities Output Outcomes
Figure 3: Inputs, Activities, Outputs and Outcomes (The Incus Group)

Working on Country

Thirdly – to be effective in Creating a Gap and to successfully leave Indigenous disadvantage behind – we should learn from, and apply, similar principles and approaches to the highly successful Indigenous programs like Working on Country. Some fundamentals that makes this program successful are:

  1. Designed by Indigenous people – for Indigenous people;
  2. Funding is 'ongoing' in the budget papers which means it's less susceptible to cycles of political interference;
  3. Funding contracts are multiyear enabling continuity and succession planning;
  4. It delivers and reports on multiple impacts (jobs, wellbeing, community cohesion, environmental, economic development) in the local, State and national interest; and
  5. It provides funding for Indigenous decision making (governance) critical to supporting and informing the on-country activities undertaken by Ranger groups.

Empower Indigenous engagement and ownership

Lastly, and most critically, empowering Indigenous engagement and ownership must be central to any policy and programs effecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s lives. Doing things to and for Indigenous people can no longer be accepted – we must only do things with, by and for Indigenous people. The solutions have always been within our people and communities. Nobody is more invested in Creating a Gap and realising positive outcomes than Indigenous people themselves.