Our country needs to listen up

16 years have passed since the former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised to the Stolen Generations, and launched the Closing the Gap targets. Unfortunately, little progress has been made on closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Previous governments have consistently pledged greater collaboration with First Nations communities, yet little has changed. Last week, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese reiterated the commitment to working closely with Indigenous Australians, raising the question: will this time see meaningful action?

In January this year, the Productivity Commission’s review of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap was critical of the failures of the successive governments in failing to meet their Commitments, citing:

…persistent barriers to progressing the Agreement’s Priority Reforms are the lack of power sharing needed for joint decision-making, and the failure of governments to acknowledge and act on the reality that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people know what is best for their communities. Unless governments address the power imbalance in their systems, policies and ways of working, the Agreement risks becoming another broken promise…

The recommendations demand the crucial need to empower communities through three key steps:

  1. Building the community-controlled sector,
  2. Establishing formal partnerships with shared decision-making, and
  3. Embedding cultural competency within government structures.

These are actions, not mere words, and exactly what proponents of the Uluru Statement from the Heart argued for – a Voice to Parliament. Indigenous voices at the decision-making table would have ensured cultural understanding, improved service delivery, and fostered real partnerships. Yet, tragically this opportunity was rejected on October 14.

Now, as attention turns to the upcoming Tasmanian election on March 23rd. Premier Jeremy Rockliff, once a vocal supporter of the Voice, has announced he will not pursue a state-based version after its national defeat. However, in April 2023, Rockcliff said that the Voice was about giving First Nations a Voice at the table.



Premier Rockcliff and the Tasmanian government moved to set up the Aboriginal Advisory Group which is committed to developing a truth-telling and treaty process. While this is a very welcome initiative, it lacks the frameworks for establishing partnerships and shared decision making. You cannot begin to close the gap if outcomes on the ground are not improved. First Nations elders, communities and organisations know the solutions needed to close the gap. 

In the lead up to the Tasmanian state election on 23 March, ANTAR will as usual be analysing the policies of the major parties and candidates, on the matters important to First Nations Tasmanians. 

But this is an important opportunity to hold leadership accountable. We must demand concrete actions that align with the Productivity Commission’s recommendations, not just another cycle of empty promises. We must push for genuine partnerships, empowered communities, and culturally competent service delivery. 

This requires vigilance from all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike. Close to six million Australians voted to walk a better path. They chose to listen to Indigenous people, rather than the messages of politicians eager to gain political advantage. Indigenous and non-Indigenous Tasmanians have the opportunity to ask their leaders how they will ensure better decision making, to improve the lives of First Nations Tasmanians. 

It is the only way forward. We can no longer let our voice be defined by others. As Minister for Indigenous Australians the Hon. Linda Burney has repeatedly reiterated, it is not sufficient to rely on the Indigenous members elected to parliament to be a voice. We need a coordinated voice to ensure our messages come directly from First Nations Australians to non-Indigenous Australians who chose to walk with us.  

There are countless First Nations organisations and ally organisations, including ANTAR, who tirelessly work hard to achieve outcomes for their communities. But the Voice referendum demonstrated their voice was often ignored. In October after the failed referendum, I established the Kulila Research & Advocacy Institute (KRAI). Kulila is the Pitjantjara word for ‘listen up’. Our country needs to listen up. 

Tasmanians go to the polls on March 23, but Indigenous Tasmanians, and non-Indigenous Tasmanians who supported the Voice, have the opportunity to demand action from their leaders, not just words. This is the first election since the referendum. The status quo is not working, it’s time to Kulila.

Republished from ANTaR