In February 2016, I wrote an article for Green Left Weekly about that year’s Closing the Gap speech, with the headline “PM’s Closing the Gap speech — more Turnbullshit”. Aptly named I thought. But two years later nothing has changed.
On February 12 Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull handed down the 10th anniversary Closing the Gap speech. It was even more Turnbullshit.
Of the seven Closing the Gap commitments to improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, only three have been met. However four of the biggest commitments were not met and in some areas are going backwards.
In defence of the targets not being met, former PM Kevin Rudd acknowledged that 110 years of disadvantage was “bloody hard to overcome”. Yes, he is right. Overcoming the disadvantage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples face will not happen overnight.
My fear is that it will never happen because governments have failed to implement real policies to enact change and have failed to listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who are at the forefront of the disadvantage.
Here are some snippets from Turnbull’s speech. For me they speak volumes about why we will never close the gap on the disadvantage my people face.
“We learned there, that before European settlement, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians spoke up to 600 dialects of languages”.
By saying this Turnbull is still denying the fact that Australia was not settled, it was invaded, and Aboriginal people were massacred.
“Mr Speaker, Indigenous leaders have written to me saying: ‘despite some small gains, First Peoples across the nation concede that the Closing the Gap targets were inappropriate and that there was no community buy-in from the outset’. Well, that has to change.”
Last year, the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples addressed the meeting of the COAG ministerial council on Indigenous affairs and handed a consultation document urging community consultation for closing the gap.
A year on and again no consultation has happened.
Turnbull, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and the rest of the political cronies come from “white privilege”. They will never understand, nor do they want to understand, the impact that 228 years of colonisation has had on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
We need a government that understands disadvantage. Until we get this, nothing will change.
[Dr Sharlene Leroy-Dyer is a descendant of the Guringai/Gadigal/Wiradjuri/Dhurag peoples of New South Wales and an academic at the University of Newcastle. Her research explores education and employment disadvantage for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.]