Indigenous leaders are speaking out against the federal government’s “Close the Gap” campaign, which is aimed at closing the health and education gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
The campaign, which started in 2009, has come under fire from a number of quarters throughout its ten year lifespan, including from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders who say the campaign has done little to close the gap in terms of equality and empowerment.
The criticism of the campaign has increased in recent weeks as it has shifted from directly addressing the health and education issues to more explicitly targeting Indigenous people themselves, with an Indigenous-specific advertising campaign dubbed ‘Use Your Voice’.
The campaign, which was launched in May, targets young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and encourages them to “find their voice” and “come forward and be heard”.
However, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders have expressed their dismay at the campaign and the timing of its launch, which closely follows the recent protests across Australia in solidarity with the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement.
Leading figures including Warren Mundine, Mark Yettica-Paulson, Larissa Behrendt, and Glenfield Lyne have all warned that the campaign may be interpreted as condoning racism directed at Indigenous people, and that there has been a “hate raining down” on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as a result of the campaign.
Mundine said the campaign was “counter-productive” and created an “us versus them divide”, while Yettica-Paulson called the campaign “tone deaf and insensitive” and said it created an environment of danger for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
In a statement to The Guardian, the Indigenous Co-Chair of the Close the Gap Campaign Committee, Tammy Solonec, said the government’s response to the criticism of the campaign had been “wholly inadequate” and that they are “not listening to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices”.
Solonec also noted that while the campaign does highlight the need to close the gap, it should also be used to empower Indigenous people and provide a platform for their questions and concerns.
The federal government has since suspended the campaign, stating that it will be “vigorously” reviewed and “appropriate adjustments” made.
However, many Indigenous leaders remain wary of the campaign’s intentions, and have warned that any further use of the concept of ‘closing the gap’ could be used to further marginalize Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.