Closing The Gap

Once again I think that relations between Non-indigenous and Indigenous Australians is an area where there is a huge gap between the popular conception of the problem and the deeper intricacies of the problem. I think the points made in the Pacific studies lecture about the weight of history being a complicating factor are especially relevant in exploring this topic. I find my own discipline very helpful in understanding this topic as art is central to Indigenous Australian culture and has been often employed to exorcise some of the tensions of Australian history. Last year studying Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art I wrote an essay with the title Black Art on White Walls exploring the historical tensions between indigenous and colonial culture. I think Richard Bell's provocative artworks which I have provided a sample of below explore some of the issues that we have discussed throughout this topic.

Richard Bell 'Uz vs. Them', Digital Video 2006

I facilitated the tutorial for this week and so do not really want to reiterate the ideas that Matt and I chose to explore in that forum. Instead I'd rather reflect on some of the other concepts that came across during my research. Firstly Closing the Gap isn't a complex problem, it is an attempt to break down the problem of the disparity between the quality of life for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians into a series of smaller problems that can each be addressed. Looking then at the state of Indigenous affairs in Australia and overlaying the Wicked problems diagram, it certainly qualifies.

The intervention was an attempt to run at the problem with 'one shot solution' and was a reactionary measure that failed to consult experts and to address a system. It took one small part of a complex system and tried to fit the mold to the whole. Which turned out to be wholly inappropriate.

The COAG report, from which the 'gaps' to be closed are defined says that "An improvement in one building block is heavily reliant on improvements made on other building blocks." These building blocks are as follows

(a) Remote Indigenous Service Delivery;

(b) Indigenous Economic Participation;

(c) Indigenous Early Childhood Development;

(d) Indigenous Health;

(e) Remote Indigenous Housing; and

(f) Remote Indigenous Public Internet Access.

The difference can be seen between this and the intervention in that this is an attempt to address the systemic problems rather than those most addressed by media outrage. The COAG report attempts to address the failings of a hierarchical approach and address a trans-disciplinary way of problem solving. In this instance trying to equally integrate the needs of competing parties as illustrated below.

The language and tone of the report seems to be working in the frameworks that we have been developing for problem solving. For example

Working in partnership ideally provides an opportunity to:

§ seek involvement to ensure that views are reflected in options developed; or

§ collaborate and partner with interested parties by directly incorporating their advice in the development of options and identification of the preferred solutions.

The Closing the Gap targets are ambitious and work to achieve them will need to be undertaken over a considerable period of time. The Strategy recognises that this will require:

§ sustained commitment from all levels of government to work together;

§ resetting of the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians – this reconciliation involves building mutually respectful relationships between Indigenous and other Australians that allows us to recognise our histories and our cultures; it will also involve us working together to solve problems and generate success that includes all Australians;

§ action through mainstream programs and Indigenous specific initiatives;

§ responses that address the nature of place and broader issues;

§ sound measures for progress, accountability, the development of an evidence base and identification of best practice; and

§ Involvement by the corporate sector, non-government organisations and local government with the aim of Closing the Gap and building partnerships across all sectors.

I can only hope that these documents are not rhetoric and actually translate into action.

In terms of learning process I think that it was interesting to work with someone from a different background. Matt kept bringing me back to a political/legal standpoint while I kept dragging him to look at the problem through the lens of cultural relations and cultural disempowerment. I think eventually we reached a good middle ground. I tried to bring my discipline to the tutorial. I didn't really expect that people would have much of a knowledge of art but was astounded that no-one knew any of the artworks that I bought along to discuss.

Question: How do we best communicate the imperative of reform in indigenous affairs to a largely apathetic public?