Sixteenth anniversary of the National Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples and Closing the Gap Annual Report and Implementation Plan

Minister for Indigenous Australians

I recognise the Traditional Owners of the land – and their care and custodianship of Country and culture.

Sixteen years ago, one word changed our country forever:


It was not about guilt, or blame.

It was about facing up to the true history of this nation.

Above all it was about people.

People like the Stolen Generations survivors and their families who join us today.

As we reflect on one of the most tragic, brutal and damaging chapters of Australia’s history.

The shadow of this history is cast long –

And falls not only on those who were taken –

Through the intergenerational trauma that was unleashed on our families and communities.

To those from the Stolen Generations, and your families –

I acknowledge your strength, your courage and your resilience.

Thank you for being here.

Today, sixteen years after the apology, we are releasing the 2023 Closing the Gap Annual Report –

And the 2024 Implementation Plan.

Much has been said about the Productivity Commission’s report released last week.

I want to be clear –

All levels of government need to do better if we are to make progress on closing the gap.

As the Prime Minister has said, this Government is committed to the ongoing National Agreement on Closing the Gap.

We are determined to work with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Coalition of the Peaks on the four Priority Reforms.

Structural changes to the way governments work with communities.

The first of these is Formal Partnerships and Shared Decision Making – the key to self-determination.

As well as Building the Community-Controlled Sector – which is about community taking responsibility for delivering services people trust.

Along with Transforming Government Organisations – so they work for everyone.

And finally Shared Access to Data and Information – so we can make the right decisions together, and act on evidence.

If we get these Priority Reforms right – we will make progress on the targets.

And, in recognition of our partnership –

I look forward to welcoming the Coalition of the Peaks to meet with the Cabinet in the near future.

The same old approach of insisting that Government knows best, has not worked.

And it is in that spirit, today, the Albanese Labor Government announces a new jobs program to create 3,000 jobs in remote communities.

We are replacing the failed Community Development Program (CDP) with real jobs, proper wages, and decent conditions.

Starting later this year the new jobs program will be developed in partnership with First Nations people.

This will be life-changing for many people in remote communities.

The old CDP program was a failure.

It failed individuals and failed communities.

And I thank the Prime Minister for his commitment to this important reform.

This is about putting communities in the driver’s seat to create local jobs.

Jobs that will strengthen communities and grow remote economies –

Jobs that will deliver what community needs and wants.

And communities have told me they want to access things like laundries, butchers and mechanic shops.

And to build up the local skills that are needed for the care economy, services and maintenance.

So there is more work and more opportunity for locals. And less reliance on the fly-in-fly-out workforce.

In the remote community of Galiwinku in the NT, we have seen the difference that real jobs can make –

At the Miyalk Kitchen, Yolngu women train and cook meals for people visiting the island.

Local woman, Rita Gurrawiwi says of the program’s success:

“When you work you feel better, you have money, and you can provide for your family… we’re showing a pathway for our children.”

As well as the new jobs program, we are also investing:

  • $30.2 million for Remote Training Hubs in up to seven remote locations in Central Australia;
  • $10.7 million to continue funding for the Justice Policy Partnership;
  • and will roll out Wi-Fi services for up to 20 remote communities.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Commissioner

We’ve also announced today that we will establish a Commissioner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children and Young People.

Because the number of children in out-of-home care is unacceptable.

Twenty-seven years after the Bringing them Home report –

Indigenous children are almost eleven times more likely to be in out-of-home care than non-Indigenous children.

The new Commissioner will work with communities and state and territory commissioners ­-­

And focus on strengthening families and getting better outcomes for First Nations children and young people.

This has come about through the long-running advocacy of the peak group for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families – SNAICC.

Who in partnership with frontline experts and the Minister for Social Services –

Has been working on the best way to make sure this delivers change for our children.

Getting on with the job of delivering

And while we all know the gap is not closing fast enough, there are some rays of hope.

I stood here last year and described it as a disgrace –

That there are First Nations communities in this country that still do not have reliable access to safe drinking water.

We are, as the Prime Minister has said, addressing that – through work led by the Minister for the Environment and Water.

New Wi-Fi access is being delivered in remote communities, so people can access education and services – work led by the Minister for Communications.

And work is underway to improve access to renal services in remote communities for people with end-stage kidney disease – led by the Minister for Health.

Last year in Darwin, I joined Senator Malarndirri McCarthy and a group of women from remote Borroloola.

I’ll never forget it –

These women were staying in a hostel in Darwin, some 900 kilometres from their community, just so they could have access to life-saving dialysis treatment.

Tears of joy were flowing when we announced they’d no longer have to make the huge trek to Darwin.

Borroloola is getting a new dialysis unit as part of our commitment to provide Better Renal Services for First Nations people –

With at least 30 four-chair renal dialysis units across the country.

This will make a real difference to people’s lives.

From the referendum to a better future

I want to conclude by acknowledging that there is still much hurt in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, after the referendum last October.

It was not the result we had hoped for –

But it is a result we accept.

And as the Minister for Indigenous Australians, I say to First Nations people – I will work with you towards a better future.

As the Prime Minister has said, we are going to take the time required to get Makarrata and truth-telling right, as Treaty progresses at a state and territory level.

To the amazing Pat Turner, Catherine Liddle and Scott Wilson and all the staff at the Coalition of the Peaks – thank you for your hard work, your wisdom and your determination.

I am looking forward to continuing to work with the Coalition of the Peaks to close the gap and deliver a better future for First Nations peoples across Australia.

Always working in the spirit of self-determination.

I will conclude today with the words of the great Lowitja O’Donoghue –

As relevant today as they ever were –

“We are all here now and we have to solve our differences and live together as Australians … Together we can build a remarkable country, the envy of the rest of the world.”

/Public Release. View in full here.