Closing the Gap

In 2008, the Federal Government and State Governments came together in a national effort: Closing the Gap for Indigenous Australians.

Closing the Gap

A key commitment was to provide safe, clean and secure housing for Aboriginal families, particularly in remote areas. In those areas, overcrowded, low-quality houses, with power, water and sewerage problems, led to poor health outcomes, mediocre school attendance, and low workforce participation.

The response was the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing, which saw $4.8 billion committed over a decade, across the country. That Agreement formalised the historical roles each level of government had played, with the Federal Government funding infrastructure and states providing services.

Good progress has been made under the Agreement to reduce overcrowding and improve housing conditions. But more remains to be done if we are serious about Closing the Gap. Now, at this critical juncture and while seeking to "refresh" the Closing the Gap agenda and targets, the Federal Government is walking away from its responsibilities to remote Aboriginal families.

Despite its own review saying more remote housing investment is needed and that governments should take a shared approach to this task, the Federal Government is trying to quietly vacate the field.

This is an ongoing trend. Over the first seven years of Closing the Gap in Western Australia, the State Government increased its per person Aboriginal expenditure by 16 per cent in real terms, while the Federal Government reduced its expenditure by 3 per cent.1 If the Federal Government had matched the State Government increase, there would be $440 million more per year for services to Aboriginal Western Australians.

Instead, the Federal Government effort declined further in 2015, as it walked away, after decades of support, from remote municipal and essential service infrastructure funding, posting the State a miserly cheque to cover just three years of future investment.

On 1 July, the Federal Government walked away from some of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens, who live in communities it helped establish.

So while the State Government continues to do its part to Closing the Gap for Aboriginal Western Australians, the Federal Government is running for the door.

The citizens of Western Australia, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, deserve better.

1. 2017 Indigenous Expenditure Report, Productivity Commission, 2017. These are the most recent available figures on indigenous expenditure.