Legislative Council: Wednesday, November 16, 2022


Ministerial Statement

Closing the Gap Annual Report

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (14:30): I seek leave to make a ministerial statement.

Leave granted.

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: This government takes seriously its responsibility to close the gap in outcomes between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. The rates of disadvantage that we continue to see are quite simply unacceptable. If we are to continue our journey of reconciliation, we as a government and as a community must accept the injustices of the past but also embrace the responsibility to take action to improve the life outcomes that Aboriginal people in this state currently experience.

After 10 years of Closing the Gap, the former Council of Australian Governments (COAG) acknowledged the importance of genuine partnerships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and Australian governments. This led to a refresh of Closing the Gap, which ensures Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are working alongside all governments to determine, drive and implement their own actions and outcomes. It is with these principles in mind that the government today tables the first South Australian Closing the Gap annual report for 2021-22.

It provides an honest assessment of how South Australia is tracking in terms of closing the gap, and I am pleased to report that South Australia is showing improvement in a number of areas, such as:

increasing the proportion of Aboriginal children with a healthy birth weight;

increasing the proportion of Aboriginal children enrolled in early childhood education; and

increasing the landmass subject to Aboriginal people's legal rights or interests.

However, we must also acknowledge areas where we need to do more, such as:

reducing the rate of Aboriginal adults who are incarcerated; and

reducing the rate of over-representation of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care.

The annual report provides an overview of the significant work that has occurred over the last 12 months to build the relationships between the South Australia government and the South Australian Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation Network (SAACCON).

SAACCON's membership consists of Aboriginal community-controlled organisations (ACCOs) and its role is to provide advice, recommendations and guidance based on the interests of ACCOs and Aboriginal peoples of South Australia.

Government agencies and SAACCON have invested significant time to establish the necessary structures to support the reforms set out in the Closing the Gap national agreement. The approach taken has been considered, and genuine, acknowledging where past efforts have fallen short, learning from mistakes and building trust.

A formal partnership agreement between government agencies and SAACCON has been signed, which embeds new governance arrangements and outlines how all parties will adopt new ways to work in partnership to address the disproportionate outcomes experienced by Aboriginal people in service and outcomes in this state.

It is my expectation that this groundwork will lead to accelerated progress to achieve the national agreement over the next 12 months. The annual report also provides an overview of actions in South Australia's Closing The Gap Implementation Plan, including case studies of actions that have been progressed over the past 12 months. Of the 254 actions in the implementation plan, over 200 are in progress, while 34 have been completed.

I note that agencies have reported that 32 actions have been delayed. These delays can be attributed to a number of factors, including the prioritisation of relationship building with community which will in turn support future implementation, the redirection of services to support COVID-19 efforts and the need to identify appropriate funding sources.

Despite the delay in implementing some of the actions, I am confident that the new governance arrangements will provide greater oversight of the measures that can be taken to ensure they continue to be progressed.

There are other meaningful actions occurring outside of the implementation plan that are also worthy of mentioning, such as this government's commitment to:

implementing Voice, Treaty and Truth in South Australia;

establishing an advisory commission into the incarceration rates of Aboriginal people in South Australia; and

enshrining the Nunga Courts in legislation.

SAACCON has been actively engaged in the drafting of this annual report and in all activities under the Closing the Gap commitment. It is a significant commitment of time that the community-controlled organisations are making to work with government on implementing those actions and reforms.

I would like to thank all leaders and employees in these organisations for their commitment to this work. I would like to personally acknowledge Scott Wilson, who is the Lead Convenor of SAACCON, Deb Buckskin, who is the Co-Convenor of SAACCON, and Christine Brown, who is the Project Lead for SAACCON. Their genuine approach to work in partnership with government is greatly appreciated and is setting the foundation for future positive change for our Aboriginal people and our Aboriginal communities in this state.