Never mind the gap

After last year’s failed Voice referendum, how will the Albanese government find a way forward in Indigenous affairs?

It’s generally accepted among pundits that the Albanese government has had a good first parliamentary sitting week for 2024. The view of the Opposition squirming after being successfully wedged by the government’s Stage Three tax cut reforms will have warmed the cockles of even the most jaded backbencher’s heart, after what could be described as a lacklustre 2023 for Labor. But amid the machinations around fuel efficiency standards for new vehicles, the squealing from employer groups after the “right to disconnect” legislation passed the Senate and the menacingly dark performance by Opposition Leader Peter Dutton on ABC TV’s 7.30, there stands one ongoing and catastrophic policy failure that no federal government has been able to claim victory on: Closing the Gap for Indigenous Australians.

The final report from the Productivity Commission’s three-year review into the National Agreement on Closing the Gap – a suite of measures aimed at closing the gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in areas such as health, education and socio-economic status – found that only four of the 19 national socio-economic targets are on track, while a further four are trending backwards.

After the tumultuous events of 2023, and with so much political capital spent on the Voice to Parliament referendum, there is very little political traction left for the government in Indigenous affairs. The electorate is seemingly desensitised to Indigenous disadvantage. With this in mind, it is fair to say that Australia has never been less equipped to undertake the structural and cultural reforms required to meet the Closing the Gap targets. As Productivity Commissioner Natalie Siegel-Brown said on the report’s release, “To date, most government actions and plans to implement the agreement relabel business-as-usual, or simply tweak existing ways of working.” 

The report also found that progress is unlikely unless government organisations “fundamentally rethink their systems and culture”. As things stand, it is difficult to see where the impetus for change will come from – for Albanese, there is no political advantage to be gained in fixing these systemic issues. Indigenous disadvantage is unlikely to be front and centre for the people of Dunkley, for example, when they come to the polls in March for a byelection that could well decide the political future of Peter Dutton. 

With the passing of the much-loved and trailblazing leader Lowitja O’Donoghue this week, it is a sad reminder that so many of our leaders, our elders, have gone to their graves without seeing the real change that is required to improve outcomes for Indigenous people. But these failures are not theirs; they belong to those we elect and they are collectively ours as a nation. 

What hope is there that governments across the country can do anything meaningful about Indigenous disadvantage when they can’t even bring themselves to implement in full the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody? It may well be time to consider a new royal commission into the matter given how enforced the prison industrial complex has become in the intervening 25 years, not to mention the protections for law-enforcement agencies at the expense of First Nations people. 

Perhaps the catalyst for change will come now that issues that have plagued First Nations people for generations are befalling other population groups. Guardian Australia this week revealed that homeless people are dying, on average, at the age of 44, in what is being termed a “hidden crisis”. But it won’t remain hidden for long as poverty deepens and the cost-of-living crisis continues to grow, fuelled by years of government inaction and the major supermarkets’ vulture-like price-gouging, as revealed this week by former chair of the ACCC Allan Fels’s ACTU-initiated price-gouging report

The hot topics for political discourse in 2024 reveal more about the fractured state of Australian society than our leaders are willing to let on. Among conservatives, debate is likely to rage around what the Coalition is framing as the “war on utes”, and there will be no room for a mature debate on tax reform, as any talk of changes to negative gearing and capital gains tax are shouted down by Dutton and co. 

At the other end of the political spectrum, the Greens and independents will be leading discussions around how to alleviate the poverty suffered by the working poor and the measures that might relieve pain in the short term, while also undertaking the structural reforms to fix the broken systems that have led to Australia becoming a country of haves and have-nots. 

But with political discourse the way it currently is, framed by our concentrated media market, what chance is there for real change? When it comes to Closing the Gap, there is very little hope for substantive change in 2024.

“The only way to protect the swift parrot, and hundreds of other threatened Australian forest species, is to end native forest logging across Australia and Tasmania.”

Hollywood superstar Leonardo DiCaprio calls for an end to native forest logging in Australia to help save threatened species such as the swift parrot. It follows successful legal action by the Bob Brown Foundation to temporarily halt logging in an area of forest south of Hobart.

“It is a period of severe disease that the world is going through now, but I think that thanks to honest journalism – and this work is akin to doctors – this could be remedied.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin – that well-known defender of “honest journalism” everywhere – speaks with Fox News–reject Tucker Carlson.

11

The number of overseas trips Anthony Albanese took during his first 12 months in office – one less than Scott Morrison in his first year as PM.

Labor not considering negative gearing changes

Finance Minister Katy Gallagher has told a Senate inquiry into the cost of living that the government is not considering changes to negative gearing.

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