The bishop responsible for the Catholic Church’s engagement with Indigenous Australians says the Church is a key player in the country’s effort to address the sobering findings in the latest Closing the Gap report.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison earlier this month acknowledged that just two of the seven Closing the Gap targets are on track to be achieved. The seven targets relate to health, education and employment outcomes.
Bishop Columba Macbeth-Green OSPPE, chairman of the Bishops Commission for Relations with Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Peoples, said he is “disappointed that we as a national community have once again failed our sisters and brothers who are the First Peoples of this land”.
Bishop Macbeth-Green, who leads the western New South Wales Diocese of Wilcannia-Forbes, said it was encouraging to see the Prime Minister commit to deep engagement with Indigenous leaders to listen to their concerns and work together to create future policy directions.
“It is my prayer that this will bring about real change and a bright future for Australia’s Indigenous peoples,” he said. “With the Prime Minister, we also say ‘that we can never rest as a nation until we change this for all time’.”
Bishop Macbeth-Green said the Church sees itself as a critical part of the national effort to support Indigenous communities in critical areas like education, health care and social service delivery.
“Outside government, the Catholic Church is the largest provider of the key building blocks of society like quality education, health services and community support in almost every corner of the country,” he said.
“The Church is deeply committed to support all Indigenous Australians through our ministries, guided by the wisdom of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – those who know best the way to help address the unacceptable gulf that our nation must tackle.”
In a statement, the National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council said it “wholeheartedly welcomes the renewed focus of engaging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations in amending the framework”.
“Importantly the inclusion of our people in the planning and delivery of related programs will also place responsibility upon us to work on reaching the targets,” the statement said.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities possess a strength of faith and culture that has not diminished since colonisation,” NATSICC chairman John Lochowiak said.
“We continue to draw upon these pillars of our culture in the face of adversity and will continue to do so to reach parity with non-Indigenous Australians on life expectancy, education and the other measures contained within the Closing the Gap targets.”