Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s decision to deal with internal Liberal party bickering ahead of major Indigenous issues is a sign that the recent leadership spill and ongoing bullying allegations are set to claim an increasing number of policy victims.
The Closing the Gap Refresh, the government’s cornerstone review of previously failed strategies to eliminate the vast health, educational and economic disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, appears to be one such policy consigned to the backwaters.
Due to be a major agenda item at the now cancelled COAG meeting in October, the finalisation of new frameworks, targets and indicators for the Refresh will likely not be addressed until December — at least two months behind schedule.
However, there is a significant chance that they may not even be finalised during the next meeting. A whole host of issues, including power prices and public hospital funding, were meant to be discussed in October. Most will now likely be shifted to the December gathering.
With this being the case, it appears that Closing the Gap might fall out of focus. Even if the strategy is discussed, the packed agenda will mean there is limited time available. Given the enormity of the task – 23 preliminary targets have been proposed – many parts of the Closing the Gap review could remain unresolved well into 2019.
If this were the case, it would make for a sombre occasion when the Prime Minister delivers the annual Closing the Gap update in February. Four key target indicators will have expired, with nothing to replace them. This situation will be far from the positive picture the government offered in announcing the review.
Unfortunately, this is the very real side effect of our leaders placing too-great a focus on politicking in place of genuine decision making. While Scott Morrison seeks to address issues around gender, bullying and intimidation in an attempt to shore up his party ahead of the next election, genuine policy issues have fallen by the wayside.
So while politicians continue to quarrel in Canberra, Closing the Gap will remain helplessly dormant. Meanwhile, Indigenous people from Cape York to Kununurra will continue to wait in hope that their problems will eventually get the attention they require.
14 January 2019 | SPECTATOR FLAT WHITE
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