Coalition commits $1bn to Closing the Gap measures to reduce disadvantage for Indigenous Australians

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<span>Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP</span>
Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

The Morrison government will deliver a suite of measures worth more than $1bn to reduce social, health and economic disadvantage among Indigenous Australians.

The announcement on Thursday includes $378.6m for a redress scheme for members of the stolen generations as part of the first implementation plan after a reboot of the Closing the Gap initiative.

The new scheme will apply to living members of the stolen generations who were removed as children from their families in the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory prior to self-government and the Jervis Bay territory.

In a statement ahead of the announcement, the minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, said the scheme would support healing and was “critical to continue the nation’s reconciliation journey”.

He said the government was “committed to working in partnership and listening to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples”.

“This announcement reflects the government’s commitment to recognise and acknowledge the wrongs of the past as part of the nation’s journey to reconciliation, and this scheme represents a major step forward towards healing,” Wyatt said.

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The scheme for survivors removed in the territories would include “a one-off payment in recognition of the harm caused by forced removal”, the minister said. It would also give each survivor the opportunity “to tell their story and receive an individual apology”.

Wyatt said to be eligible recipients had to be Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people removed from their family while living in the NT or ACT prior to their respective self-government, or the Jervis Bay territory, and under the age of 18 at the time they were removed by government bodies – including the police, churches, missions or welfare bodies – “in circumstances where their Indigeneity was a factor in their removal”.

Wyatt said the scheme would include one-off payments of $75,000 in recognition of the harm caused by forced removal and a one-off healing assistance payment of $7,000 “in recognition that the action to facilitate healing will be specific to each individual”.

The government overhauled the Closing the Gap initiative last year after months of negotiation with Aboriginal peak organisations.

As a consequence of the reboot, the commonwealth, states and territories have identified four priority reforms and 17 socioeconomic targets, and have agreed to work in partnership with Aboriginal organisations to design and deliver on priority areas such as housing, early childhood and justice reform.

The productivity commission released the first batch of data under the reboot last week. The commission noted it was not yet possible to assess progress under the agreement “as the relevant reporting periods were all before or around its July 2020 commencement”.

Assessing the information that was available, the commission said progress towards seven of the socioeconomic targets was “mixed”.

It said three of the targets were on track – healthy birth weight babies, the enrolment of children in the year before full-time schooling as well as youth detention rates. But the remaining four were not on track – life expectancy, adult imprisonment, out-of-home care for children and suicides.

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The prime minister, Scott Morrison, will address the parliament on Thursday morning. In a statement ahead of the speech, Morrison said the new implementation plan would detail how Australian governments would achieve the Closing the Gap objectives set out in the new arrangements.

The plan would commit to funding actions “that will ensure we get there”. The government said initiatives included $254.4m to support Aboriginal community controlled health organisations and $160m to extend funding for childcare and early education.

“We’re doing things differently with accountability and transparency, and in true partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders,” Morrison said in the statement.

“This is a practical plan that builds from the ground up by making good on the harm caused to stolen generations survivors to supporting this and future generations of young people with more education opportunities”.

Morrison said the approach was about reconciliation and accountability.

The federal Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, will also address the chamber on Thursday. He will commit Labor to delivering a national process for treaty-making and truth-telling, creating employment opportunities for First Nations people, and funding Indigenous-led programs for caring for land and water.

In a statement ahead of his speech, Albanese said: “For eight long years, the government has shunted its responsibility for progress on Closing the Gap to states and territories; on future parliaments and future generations.

“The prime minister promises a new approach, but the question is, is this new money, or is this another shiny new announcement from existing funds?”

Under the reboot, from 2022, all tiers of government will produce an annual report to outline progress under the implementation plan. The productivity commission is also maintaining a dashboard of data on all the targets and indicators at a national, state and territory level.

Closing the gap

More than $1bn worth of measures aimed to reducing Indigenous disadvantage have been announced by the federal government.

Key spending includes

  • $378.8m for a stolen generations redress scheme for the Northern Territory, ACT and Jervis Bay Territory.

  • $254.4m for Aboriginal-controlled community health organisations

  • $160m to support Indigenous children through a healthy mums and bubs program and an early childhood education package

  • $75m to improve high school education options in remote communities

  • $66m for alcohol and drug treatment services

  • $22m to help preserve Indigenous languages

(Source: Prime Minister’s Office)

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