Two agencies unite to promote the Closing the Gap Refresh agenda

It’s been just over a decade since former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and opposition leader Brendan Nelson signed the Close the Gap Statement of Intent, but with many of the targets still well out of reach two local agencies are combining forces to improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians accessing their services.

CatholicCare Social Services Hunter-Manning will partner with newly established Aboriginal agency, Connecting Culture, to promote greater knowledge, understanding and inclusion of Aboriginal people amongst their staff and within the community.

Connecting Culture is a fee-for-service agency dedicated to assisting community service organisations develop cultural plans, facilitate family mediation, provide youth mentoring and deliver cultural awareness training.

On the eve of National Close the Gap Day, observed annually on 21 March, Connecting Culture Services Manager and proud Bundjalung and Gamilaraay man, Ian Eggins, said he was buoyed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) commitment last year to place Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at the heart of the Closing the Gap Refresh agenda.

COAG introduced the Closing the Gap agenda with one of its key aims being to reduce the 10 year gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians by 2030.

“It deeply saddens me that we are not on track to achieving this goal, or many of the other priorities relating to education, health and employment outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders,” Mr Eggins said.

“These poorer outcomes should not only concern Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who are directly affected, but all Australians.”

CatholicCare Director, Gary Christensen echoed Mr Eggins views stating “the quest for equality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians should be shouldered by every Australian.”

CatholicCare aims to drive cultural change that will support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people move beyond just surviving to actually thriving.

“Australia’s First Peoples have shown extraordinary strength and resilience, particularly through the trauma inflicted on them by past government policies. It is important our staff work proactively with this knowledge when supporting Indigenous Australians who access our mental health, early intervention and family support programs,” Mr Christensen said.

A key component of the partnership between CatholicCare and Connecting Culture will be educating CatholicCare staff on Australia’s complex history and supporting them as they review their programs and policies in order to ensure they are community-led and culturally sensitive.

“It is only through increasing community awareness about the impact that policies, such as The White Australia Policy, have had on our people that we will, as a nation, be truly able to ‘close the gap.’ For example, many people do not realise that due to epigenetics (the study of heritable changes in genes that does not alter the DNA sequence), as a population we are still experiencing the repercussions of the Stolen Generation,” Mr Eggins said.

“Although combined our agencies only support a small percentage of the nation’s Indigenous population, any progress is valuable and can have a flow-on effect across communities. We must start somewhere.”

Mr Christensen added that for too long many Australians had ignorantly proclaimed we’re the ‘lucky country’ while ignoring the ongoing poverty and premature death of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our community.

“For over a century our First Australian people were subjected to policies that left them at a disadvantage and caused trauma that has spanned generations.

“The Closing the Gap Refresh should serve as a mandate for all Australians to support government efforts in the quest for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to achieve equality with their countrymen,” he said.

“It starts with each of us at an individual level: educate yourself on the history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, have awareness of what is going on in your local community, offer support, be an advocate for change and show compassion. These are all small, but important steps on the path to equality.”

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Lizzie Watkin Image
Lizzie Watkin

Lizzie is Team Leader Content for the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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