Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Chair of the Aboriginal Executive Council
The National Agreement on Closing the Gap (national agreement) represents a fundamental shift in the approach of Governments to closing the gap, one that is built upon genuine and meaningful partnerships with the Aboriginal Community Controlled Sector, Traditional Owner groups and the wider Aboriginal community. This shift has been driven at the national level by the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peaks (coalition of peaks), and here in Victoria by the Aboriginal Executive Council (AEC) and other key Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs).
The original closing the gap framework was not able to deliver on the hope and expectation it created as it was not developed or implemented in true partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, nor did it adequately resource Aboriginal communities as the drivers of change. Unlike the original framework, the new national agreement reflects the needs, expectations and hopes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people from across Australia.
Whilst Victoria is in the early stages of transferring power, decision-making and resources to the Aboriginal community-controlled sector and Aboriginal-communities, we know this is central to developing a new relationship between the State and Victoria’s First Peoples. This is reflected in Victoria’s Closing the Gap Implementation Plan and the Victorian Government’s broader commitment to Treaty, working with the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria (Assembly); and to truth telling through the Yoo-rrook Commission.
Prioritising self-determined solutions that promote culture, connection and community strengthening is the key to closing the gap. We are ensuring the preservation of Aboriginal culture by supporting Aboriginal Elders, and empowering the next generation of proud, strong and thriving Aboriginal people to continue their culture.
A strong, sustainable, and well-resourced Aboriginal community-controlled sector will enable the delivery of critical services across all areas of inequity, including health, justice, education and employment whilst also driving accountability of other parties to deliver on their responsibilities.
For thousands of years, Victoria’s Traditional Owner communities have expertly managed Country and its natural resources to ensure sustainable food supplies, ongoing prosperity and the maintenances of strong culture. They remain the traditional custodians of the lands, waters and country that we all live and work upon and have profound cultural, spiritual and economic connections through their relationship with country. This connectedness to land and water resources on country is fundamental to the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal families and communities.
Continued connection to country, and particularly through increasing the role of Aboriginal communities in caring for country, improves the social and emotional wellbeing outcomes across all aspects of community as well as provide Aboriginal Victorians with opportunities for economic advancement.
Our shared aspiration extends beyond closing the gap and reflects a move away from just measuring life expectancy towards fulfilling what Aboriginal people desire out of life.
Aboriginal people know what is best for themselves, their families and their communities. Commitments under the national agreement include transferring power and resources from Government Departments and mainstream agencies to Aboriginal community control, strengthening shared decision-making structures, achieving a minimum level of progress against socio-economic targets by 2031, and independent Aboriginal led evaluation and monitoring of progress.
Self‑determination is the human right that underpins our collective efforts under the national agreement and Victoria’s existing Victorian Aboriginal Affairs Framework (VAAF) 2018-2023. The VAAF is Victoria’s overarching framework for Aboriginal Affairs and commits the Government to advancing Aboriginal self-determination through an ambitious, forward-looking agenda.
The Aboriginal Executive Council is the Victorian Government’s partner in closing the gap implementation. The AEC was established in 2017 to provide sector-specific advice on whole of government self-determination reform. AEC meets jointly with the Secretaries’ Leadership Group on Aboriginal Affairs (SLG), to set self-determination reform priorities, and the Senior Officers’ Group on Aboriginal Affairs (SOG), to operationalise these. AEC also meets independently of government.
This commitment acknowledges that the best outcomes for Aboriginal Victorians are achieved when policies and programs are based on their knowledge, expertise and priorities.
While Aboriginal self-determination means different things to different people, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) describes self-determination as the ability for Indigenous people to freely determine their political status and pursue their economic, social and cultural development. Australia is a signatory to international law instruments, including UNDRIP, that affirm the right to self-determination for Indigenous peoples
In implementing the national agreement, we will continue to be driven by the right to self-determination and existing commitments under the VAAF. We will pursue more ambitious targets in areas such as youth and adult justice, and family violence and push beyond the closing the gap targets where they are already within reach. We are committed to parity and equity.
Alongside closing the gap, the foundational work to support future treaty negotiations with the Assembly is continuing. The Assembly is the sole representative of Aboriginal Victorians for the purpose of working with the State to establish by agreement the elements necessary to support future treaty negotiations.
We know that restoring the health, wellbeing and prosperity of Aboriginal people and communities requires acknowledging and understanding past wrongs, from their perspective, and the intergenerational impacts. The establishment of the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission, the first of its kind anywhere in Australia, represents a significant step forward on Victoria’s path towards treaty. Truth-telling recognises the strength and resilience of Aboriginal people and acknowledges that it is only through a shared understanding of, and reckoning with, our past that Victorians – both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal – can build a shared future. Treaty and truth telling are fundamental to closing the gap.
Victoria’s commitment to closing the gap is unequivocal. We will be clear about our commitments, rigorous in assessing progress and always led by the views, aspirations, rights and priorities of Victoria’s Aboriginal community.
Message from the Acting Premier
After generations of injustice, dispossession and deprivation, we need to recognise a fundamental truth:
If we are genuinely committed to better outcomes for Aboriginal people, then they need to be led by Aboriginal people.
It’s why here in Victoria, we’re proud to be progressing both truth-telling and Treaty.
The Yoo-rrook Justice Commission will serve as our nation’s first formal truth-telling forum – compelling us to confront what’s come before and acknowledging that the pain of our past lives on in our present.
We’re also delivering on our promise to give Aboriginal Victorians a voice by establishing – and enshrining in law – the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria.
Our state’s first and only democratically elected body for First Nations people, the Assembly ensures that Aboriginal people are at the heart of Victoria’s Treaty discussions.
Far more than a seat at the table, this is recognition that the table – and the Treaty process – must belong to Aboriginal people too.
Although, in many respects, Victoria continues to lead the nation, there remains much more to be done.
As a state and as a nation, we need to acknowledge the deep injustices Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to confront – and their remarkable strength and survival in the face of it all.
Together, we must do more.
A more just, more equal, more decent future – for all Australians – is relying on it.
Working in partnership
Purpose of this implementation plan
Victoria’s implementation plan on closing the gap (implementation plan) outlines the actions Victoria will undertake to achieve the objective of the new national agreement on closing the gap:
‘overcome the entrenched inequality faced by too many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people so that their life outcomes are equal to all Australians’
The purpose of this implementation plan is to make clear the work we will undertake for the first three years of the national agreement (2021-2023). The plan is not fixed for three years. It will be closely monitored and reviewed. Victoria has worked in close partnership with the AEC, other key Aboriginal partnership forums and Aboriginal community-controlled organisations (collectively referred throughout this plan to as Victoria’s Implementation Partners) to develop this plan. We will continue to work with our Implementation Partners to identify specific additional measures required to keep the closing the gap targets on a trajectory to success.
This plan, is the first of a series running to 2031, and focuses on the enablers that will drive Closing the Gap in the long term. Quite deliberately the first stage of implementation will involve engagement and consultation with the Aboriginal community and Aboriginal governance structures so that the plan remains responsive to emerging needs.
The plan focuses on embedding key priority reform enablers across the work of Victorian government including:
- Priority Reform 1: Formal partnerships and shared decision-making.
- Priority Reform 2: Building the community-controlled sector.
- Priority Reform 3: Transforming government organisations.
- Priority Reform 4: Shared access to data and information at a regional level.
Enablers of success include implementing Aboriginal Funding Reform, providing ACCOs with longer term flexible funding with reduced administrative burden; Data Development, ensuring that progress against the commitments in the Victorian Aboriginal Affairs Framework and the closing the gap outcomes and targets can be assessed at regional and statewide level and committing to ACCO Sector Development Plans to grow and sustain the ACCO sector across all Closing the Gap outcome areas.
The enablers set the groundwork for lasting change. They will ensure we achieve sustainable, long-term success, that we equip Victoria’s Aboriginal community-controlled organisations to take the lead while ensuring Departments and mainstream services are accountable for delivering effective culturally-safe services.
The plan references specific clauses under the national agreement including those that have specified timeframes for completion. The Plan includes, Jurisdictional Actions, actions that the Victorian Government is required to undertake, and Partnership Actions, actions that all governments and the Coalition of Peaks must work on collectively and implement nationally.
This plan is informed by and includes commitments from existing State Government policy including the Victorian Aboriginal Affairs Framework 2018-2023 (VAAF). The plan aligns these existing commitments, on areas such as funding reform, with the reforms and strategies under the national agreement.
As a public document the plan will assist the Victorian Aboriginal community to hold all parties under the national agreement, the Commonwealth, State and Local Government, mainstream agencies and ACCOs, to account for their role in closing the gap.
Closing the gap partnership
In October 2018, a revised closing the gap framework was due to be finalised and signed off by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) – a forum consisting of the Prime Minister, State Premiers, Territory Chief Ministers and the Australian Local Government Association.
Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) from across Australia came together as the National Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peaks to call for the new closing the gap framework be re-developed through a formal and equal partnership with the ACCO sector. The AEC joined the Coalition of Peaks and advocated to the Victorian Government that it support this position.
At their meeting in December 2018 COAG agreed to enter into a formal partnership and in March 2019, a formal partnership agreement on closing the gap (the partnership) was established between the Commonwealth Government, State and Territory Governments, the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Organisations (the Coalition of Peaks) and the Australian Local Government Association.
From 2019-2029, the partnership agreement commits all parties to the shared governance of closing the gap through a Joint Council on Closing the Gap. The Joint Council on Closing the Gap is comprised of 12 ACCO Peak representatives (one from each State and Territory and four national ACCO peak representatives) and 9 Government representatives (the Prime Minister, Premiers and Chief Ministers or their Ministers for Aboriginal Affairs and the Australian Local Government Association).
The Joint Council on closing the gap, which represents both government and the wider Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is the ultimate decision-making body on closing the gap. In July 2020, the Joint Council signed off the national agreement on closing the gap with an expanded set of agreed outcomes and targets to be achieved by 2031 and its four priority reforms as the drivers of sustainable change. Under the national agreement all governments are required to develop Closing the Gap implementation plans with their initial implementation plan to be provided to Joint Council in July 2021
Victoria plays an important role in the Partnership and has strongly advocated for all governments to commit to genuine Aboriginal community control to improve the outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across Australia.
Shifting the way in which governments works with Aboriginal communities and organisations takes time. The national agreement and this implementation plan set the groundwork for this necessary change by prioritising partnership in decision making between governments and Aboriginal communities, making mainstream organisations more culturally safe and responsive to the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, as well as improved data sharing.
Partnership on this implementation plan
The actions contained in the implementation plan along with the commitments made under the national agreement will be felt first-hand by Victoria’s Aboriginal communities. To ensure the Plan reflects the needs of the wider Aboriginal community, Victoria has worked in close partnership with the AEC and other key Aboriginal partnership forums and Aboriginal community controlled organisations (collectively referred throughout this plan to as Victoria’s Implementation Partners) to develop this plan.
The AEC and the Victorian Government’s Secretaries’ Leadership Group on Aboriginal Affairs (SLG) holds responsibility for development, oversight and review of Victoria’s closing the gap implementation plan. To draft the plan a Working Group consisting of officials from all Victorian Government departments, our Implementation Partners and key representatives from Aboriginal community-controlled sector organisations was established. Input into the Working Group was drawn from existing Aboriginal governance structures across all service sectors.
The actions contained in this plan will be felt first-hand by Victoria’s Aboriginal communities. Ongoing engagement with Traditional Owners, Aboriginal community and the ACCO sector is a feature of the plan, which will assist in developing new iterations of this plan informed by ongoing reviews.
Final endorsement of the plan was provided through the joint AEC and the Secretaries’ Leadership Group on Aboriginal Affairs prior to sign off by the Victorian Cabinet.
Working with local government
Local Government is central to the achievement of equity and closing the gap for Aboriginal communities and has a responsibility under the national agreement to actively support closing the gap implementation. Recognising the critical role and potential of local government to contribute to closing the gap, the Victorian Government has developed this implementation plan in consultation with local government, to ensure local councils can be engaged to drive positive change.
To acknowledge the important role of local governments, Victoria appointed a State Ambassador for closing the gap (State Ambassador). Victoria’s State Ambassador is Christine Couzens MP, who has actively engaged and advocated with local councils to strengthen shared decision making at the local level with Aboriginal communities.
The role of local governments will continue to develop throughout the life span of this implementation plan. Victoria will shortly be refreshing the Victorian Aboriginal and Local Government Strategy, which will align the Whole of Victorian Government Aboriginal Affairs program of work with the vital services and programs delivered by local governments.
Accountability, monitoring and reporting progress
Independent monitoring and annual reporting against the closing the gap outcomes and targets is essential to accountability and ensuring that the Aboriginal and broader community has access to regular information on progress.
The national agreement has specific requirements for accountability monitoring and reporting that must be adhered to by all governments. Consistent with the national agreement the following will occur:
- The Productivity Commission will:
- develop with the Joint Council a publicly accessible data dashboard on progress against closing the gap covering all State and Territories
- undertake a comprehensive independent review of progress every 3 years.
- Each party, including the Victorian Government and the Coalition of Peaks, must prepare an annual public report including information on the measures and actions taken to implement the national agreement and the number of ACCOs funded and supported under closing the gap.
- At the national level independent Aboriginal led reviews of progress will be carried out within 12 months of each Productivity Commission review.
Under the Victorian Aboriginal Affairs Framework (VAAF) 2018-2023 the State Government has committed to the establishment of an Aboriginal led evaluation and review mechanism to provide independent monitoring the VAAF goals and measures.
Since then, the establishment of the Assembly and Victoria’s journey towards Treaty means this overarching reporting and review mechanisms will be considered and developed having regard to structural and systemic reform proposed through the treaty process.
Until independent Aboriginal-led evaluation and review mechanisms are finalised, Victoria will report on closing the gap measures under the Victorian Aboriginal Affairs Report (VGAAR). Currently the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet has lead responsibility for the development of the annual VGAAR. Victoria will embed and report on closing the gap through the VGAAR, which is tabled in Parliament annually in July. Current reporting requires annual progress reports on Victoria’s implementation and commitments to embed self-determination across all areas of the government.
Whilst not an independent report, the VGAAR provides progress on not only how better life outcomes and equity is being achieved but aims to hold government accountable for what we are doing to improve outcomes for Aboriginal Victorians and enable self‑determination. It provides an overview of how government is working with community to realise the goals and objectives of the Self-Determination Reform Framework and encompasses the Victorian commitment to embed self-determination across all areas of government.
The 2020 VGAAR Report tracks progress against 111 VAAF measures across 20 goals, as well as reporting on action towards the government’s commitment to self-determination. The report demonstrates a significant shift in the way government measures and reports on outcomes in Aboriginal affairs. Along with the publication of this year’s VGAAR in late 2020, an interactive data dashboard was launched to improve transparency and accessibility of government data.
The annual VGAAR is subject to review by the AEC and tabled in Parliament, to ensure transparency and accountability from both government and the community-controlled sector. This will continue to occur as the VGAAR monitors Victoria’s progress and reports on actions under this implementation plan.
The Victorian Government will work with the Victoria’s Implementation Partners to ensure Aboriginal-led evaluation and review against the VAAF and the national agreement on closing the gap progresses in the immediate term. A summary of this annual VGAAR review will be included in the VGAAR when tabled in Parliament, while acknowledging that in the longer term, both Treaty and the recommendations of the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission will likely lead to significant systemic reform, including in relation to systems oversight and accountability.
The VGAAR and implementation plan will also be tabled at an annual meeting of the AEC, all departmental secretaries and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, and representatives from Aboriginal partnership forums to provide an opportunity to discuss progress and additional measured required to accelerate meeting our commitments under the national agreement.
Making a difference
This implementation plan acknowledges that real and sustained impacts are made through Aboriginal self-determination.
This plan, which is for an initial three-year period, focuses on advancing Aboriginal self-determination through empowering the community-controlled sector, transferring power and resources to the Aboriginal community-controlled sector, promoting accountability of Government Departments and mainstream service providers and breaking down systemic barriers faced by Aboriginal people throughout life.
The plan will drive the 4 closing the gap priority reforms that hold the key to achieving and exceeding the socio-economic targets and outcomes within the national agreement. The Victorian Government will continue to transform the way in which we work with the Aboriginal community-controlled sector to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are respected to make decisions about their own lives.
Reviewed 09 August 2021