Parliament House viewed through an Aboriginal flag in Canberra
The Albanese government has released its blueprint to address Indigenous inequity. Image by Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS
  • indigenous people

Price of failure isn’t just money, it’s lives: Albanese

Rudi Maxwell February 13, 2024

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders have welcomed the Albanese government’s approach to working with them to Close the Gap, while accusing the Opposition of trying to stigmatise their people.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese tabled his government’s Closing the Gap annual report for 2023 and implementation plan for 2024 in parliament on Tuesday, promising to drive cultural change across all levels of government to help address entrenched Indigenous inequality.

“The price of failure over successive governments isn’t just counted in dollars, it’s measured in lives,” Mr Albanese said.

He announced several new initiatives including a national First Nations children’s commissioner, a remote jobs program, wifi upgrades for remote areas and real-time reporting on deaths in custody.

In a speech to parliament, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton repeated his calls for a royal commission into sexual abuse of Indigenous children and an audit of First Nations programs.

“Billions of dollars over many decades have not translated into the outcomes that Indigenous Australians deserve,” Mr Dutton said.

“Any more bureaucracy and more bottlenecks will prevent the money going where it’s needed most.” 

Catherine Liddle
 Catherine Liddle welcomed the federal government’s commitment to work with Indigenous communities. Image by Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS 

The acting convenors of the Coalition of Peak Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, Catherine Liddle and Scott Wilson, welcomed the government’s commitment to work with First Nations people and communities.

“(Mr Albanese) was actually showing that if you sit down with us Aboriginal folk and actually design these sorts of things, you can actually have really good outcomes,” Mr Wilson said.

Ms Liddle, who also heads the national Indigenous children’s body SNAICC, said Mr Dutton had not accepted one of SNAICC’s many invitations to attend an expert briefing on child protection. 

“We consult with our communities across the country and time and time and time again they say ‘do we need another inquiry?'” she said.

“We have had inquiry after inquiry … and the fastest mechanism that we can bring into play is the national Commissioner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

“This is a game-changer that we haven’t seen in Australia before.”

Mr Wilson said listening to Mr Dutton’s speech was like “John Howard’s ghost”, referring to when the former prime minister used the spectre of child abuse to justify suspending the Racial Discrimination Act to launch the government’s NT “emergency response” in 2007.

“That led to a decade of the Intervention and also an audit into Aboriginal community organisations as if we’re all just sort of rampant corrupt organisations,” he said. 

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
 Anthony Albanese says to reach Close the Gap goals First Nations voices need to be listened to. Image by Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS 

In parliament, Mr Albanese pledged to drive power-sharing arrangements with Indigenous communities and organisations, saying that to Close the Gap First Nations voices needed to be listened to. 

“Not every community-driven initiative will be an overnight success,” he said.

“But we know that we cannot just keep doing things the same way.”

Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney during Question Time
 Minister Linda Burney said the new program would let communities decide which jobs were created. Image by Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS 

Only 11 of the 19 Closing the Gap targets are on track to be met, Mr Albanese conceded.

Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney, a Wiradjuri woman, paid tribute to the Stolen Generations on the anniversary of the national apology by then prime minister Kevin Rudd.

“As we reflect on one of the most tragic, brutal and damaging chapters of Australia’s story, the shadow of this history is cast long and falls not only on those who were taken but through the intergenerational trauma that was unleashed in our families and communities,” she said.

“And while we all know the gap is not closing fast enough there are some rays of hope.” 

Ms Burney said there is much hurt in Indigenous communities after the unsuccessful referendum on a First Nations voice to parliament last October.

“I want to say to First Nations people, I will work with you towards a better future,” she said.

“As the prime minister has also said, we’re going to take the time required to get makarrata (a Yolngu concept meaning coming together after conflict) and truth-telling right as treaty is progressing at the state and territory level.”