Queensland’s peak Indigenous health body says governments need to hand over decision making powers to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders if it’s serious about closing the gap.

Sharing power is one of four key recommendations made in the Productivity Commission’s Review of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap released on Wednesday.

Other key actions recommended in the review, include amending the agreement to support Indigenous Data Sovereignty, rethinking mainstream government systems and culture, and implementing stronger accountability.

The Commission’s first three-yearly review found progress to implement the Agreement’s reforms was “weak”, and that “disparate actions and ad hoc changes” had not led to noticeable improvements for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 

Productivity Commissioner Romlie Mokak says efforts to improve outcomes are far more likely to succeed when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people lead their design and implementation.

“Nothing will change until this model of partnership, based on genuine power sharing, becomes the rule and not the exception”, he says.

Commissioner Natalie Siegel-Brown says the lack of progress we have seen reflects a disregard for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s knowledges and solutions throughout government.

“Breaking down these entrenched attitudes and ways of working will require a focused and deliberate effort from every department and organisation,” she says.

Acting CEO of the Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council Paula Arnol agrees. She says the findings demonstrate governments are not sharing responsibility or using the skills and knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Organisations.

“It’s not a ‘gap’; it’s a chasm. We need urgent action now,” she says.

“Our communities and services live with real inequity. Life expectancy targets aren’t on trajectory, and suicide rates amongst our people are climbing.

“The Priority Reforms under the National Agreement were meant to ensure governments listened to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, we know what is best for our communities.

The National Agreement in 2020 overhauled the Closing the gap targets first established fifteen years ago. The Federal Government will present its annual Closing the Gap Report 2023 and Implementation Plan 2024 to Parliament on Tuesday next week.