“We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love… and then we return home.”
Since the colonisation of Australia, the First Peoples of Australia have suffered incredible oppression, undeniable persecution and bountiful disadvantages. Throughout history, these injustices have not disappeared but merely taken on new forms.
The Close the Gap policy program was first introduced in 2008 following the Kevin Rudd Apology (Altman, Biddle and Hunter; 2008) posing as a means to even out the socio-economic disadvantages within the Indigenous community when in truth it has instead promoted a return to colonial practices of assimilation. The Close the Gap Policy of 2016 problematises Indigenous Australians for their supposed lack of economic participation. Policies during the colonial period up until the 1970s concerning Indigenous Australians have been founded on ideas of assimilation and protection with an evident preference for Western value systems and beliefs as seen with the Aboriginal Protection Act of 1869 and the White Australia Policy of 1910 (Recognition of Aboriginal Customary Laws: ALRC Report 31; 1986). A move away from protection and assimilation policies into policies of self-determination began with the Whitlam and Keating governments in the 1970’s-90s (Altman; 2014). However, with Howard government’s focus on the socioeconomic disadvantages of the Indigenous population (Altman; 2014) and the closing of ATSIC in 2005 indicated a shift towards more neoliberal practices and a return to assimilation policy that continues today.
The Close the Gap policy focuses on the socio-economic disadvantages by looking at the key areas of health, education and employment as indicators of the level of economic participation by Indigenous Australians in Western society. A lack of “success” in these fields by Western standards are considered indicators of the failures of Indigenous economic participation therefore placing onus of this “problem” on Indigenous Australians. Additionally, a strong emphasis is placed on the importance of “sameness” as a remedy to inequality. The Close the Gap policy displays an assumption founded on anti-welfare neoliberal beliefs (Cahill; 2010) that economic participation is a requirement to successful participation is society and those who are reliant on welfare are seemingly incapable of self-sufficiency and are undesirable members of society. Additionally, there is an evident assumption founded on ideals greatly rooted in colonial beliefs of assimilation that value Western standards of living as the ideal. In using western values and standards for health, education and employment as not only the ideal but the only indicator of success in reducing inequality, there is an implication that Indigenous culture is not only less respected but also undesirable exemplifying colonial ideologies of Western supremacy. It is this systemic racism that is foundational to policies concerning the Indigenous peoples of Australia.