9 February 2024

Public servants must change their approach to First Nations people, Productivity Commission says

| Chris Johnson
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Australian flag, Australian Aboriginal Flag, Torres Strait Islander flag.

Governments need a paradigm shift in their approach to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The Productivity Commission has blasted all Australian governments for not doing enough to advance the living standards and basic rights of First Nations people.

It says the way government departments, systems and public servants approach the issue must change.

A paradigm shift is required to better consult with Indigenous Australians on matters that impact them.

In its final report of the first three-yearly review of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, the Commission insists that a business-as-usual approach to Indigenous issues cannot continue and that the plight of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was not being taken seriously.

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“The Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak organisations and all Australian governments jointly entrusted the Productivity Commission with a significant and important job – to review progress and make recommendations to ensure that the objectives of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap are met,” commissioners Romlie Mokak and Natalie Siegel-Brown wrote.

“The genesis of the agreement was governments recognising that their efforts were not changing outcomes, and indeed, the gap was widening in some areas.

“A new approach was required … but trust is lacking and will only grow when decisions about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are shared with communities.

“The gap is not a natural phenomenon. It is a direct result of the ways in which governments have used their power over many decades. In particular, it stems from a disregard for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s knowledges and solutions.”

Commissioners said that over the course of their review, it had become clear that in order to see change, business-as-usual must be a thing of the past.

They observed, across the country, “small tweaks or additional initiatives, or even layers of initiatives” as attempts to give effect to the agreement, “however, real change does not mean multiplying or renaming business-as-usual actions”, they said.

“It means looking deeply to get to the heart of the way systems, departments and public servants work.”

As part of the national agreement, all Australian governments committed to mobilising all avenues available to them “to overcome the entrenched inequality faced by too many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people so that their life outcomes are equal to those of all Australians”.

However, the Productivity Commission’s review shows that governments are not adequately delivering on this commitment, and “disparate actions and ad hoc changes” have not led to noticeable or meaningful improvements.

“This raises questions about whether governments have fully grasped the scale of change required to their systems, operations and ways of working to deliver the unprecedented shift they have committed to,” the report states.

“The Commission’s overarching finding is that there has been no systematic approach to determining what strategies need to be implemented to disrupt business-as-usual of governments.

“What is needed is a paradigm shift. Fundamental change is required, with actions based on a clear logic about how they will achieve that change.”

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It was “too easy” for the review to find examples of government decisions that contradict commitments in the agreement they signed up to.

Further, decisions do not reflect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s priorities and perspectives while government actions exacerbate, rather than remedy, disadvantage and discrimination.

“Unless governments address the power imbalance in their systems, policies and ways of working, the agreement risks becoming another broken promise to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” the report states.

Commissioners said it was most critical for government decision-makers to accept that they did not know what was best for First Nations people.

“Change can be confronting and difficult. But without fundamental change, the agreement will fail and the gap will remain,” they wrote.

“We cannot afford to waste the opportunity that this agreement presents.

“All Australians should expect that in three years’ time, the Commission will be providing a very different assessment.”

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HiddenDragon8:55 pm 09 Feb 24

Similar points could be made about government interventions and spending in many areas of activity – not just indigenous policies and programs.

The Productivity Commission report is, in effect, an endorsement of the decision of a majority of voters to reject the creation of a Canberra based talking shop which would inevitably have become yet another part of the architecture of the top-down way of doing things and an argument for something resembling genuine subsidiarity –


Subsidiarity is more often associated with political parties of the right, so there is the possibility that the broad approach, if not all of the details, recommended by the PC will gain bipartisan support.

Most Govts now have their own Aboriginal Affairs organisations. They know where things are going wrong but fail to do much about it. The authoriities in Alice for example cannot get it right. Tough love is required. That’s Partner 1.
Partner 2 is individual aboriginal, First Nation people. Most have got the mesage-you want a future, go find meaningful paid work whereever it is, support your family, obey the laws. Everyone else is doing it. You can do it too. No ifs, buts or maybes.

Statement From The Heart Volume 3. One page became another 28 pages and now this, Volume 3, another 159 pages avec dot paintings. Read it. How can the Productivity Commission compile a forensic analysis of The Gap(s) if it isn’t conducted at arm’s length from the stakeholders?
It reads straight out of The Voice YES campaign training manual. The lack of objectivity is so apparent and stunning at the same time.
From the Report:
The gap is not a natural phenomenon. It is a direct result of the ways in which governments have used their power over many decades. In particular, it stems from a disregard for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s knowledges and solutions.

So wrong. The Gap is a natural phenomenon. It can be measured in kilometres. It’s called location. The 20% of Aboriginals living in remote areas and the others living in small towns distant from Metropolitan services and opportunities are responsible for dragging down the metrics used by the PC.
The ‘knowledge’ is a damaging myth perpetrated by activists and hanger-ons. If you want to stay as a dependent, stone age, dysfunctional, not fit for purpose culture in a modern Australia then rely on ‘the knowledge’. The solution? Shut down unserviceable remote settlements and rural shanty towns. Gap closed.
From the Report:
They (Government Agencies) often impose generic, pre-existing models of service and program design, and require reporting against narrow key performance indicators (KPIs), instead of allowing ACCOs to design services and measure outcomes in ways that are most meaningful to communities.
So, no accountability, no KPI’s……how we treat children and pocket money.

I am absolutely disgusted by your simplistic, click bait reply. All you have displayed is a monumental ignorance of Aboriginal culture, the history of Australia in which Aboriginal people were forcibly removed from land, shoved into government controlled missions, and forced to be slaves for work and sex. The Gap is because of mismanagement by all levels of governments; ingrained systemic racism still prevalent in Australia; ignorance and government continuously doing the same piecemeal management of policy which non
– Indigenous companies and christian organisations make billions off any programs; and as your reply so obviously shows an absolute refusal to accept that the level of ignorance is pervasive across all sections of Australia.

This report is mostly good however it appears to fail to identify any problems with Aboriginal people or Indigenous organisations.
Governments & bureaucracy have the majority of responsibility for the failures maybe 75/25 but it’s not all the Governments fault.

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