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Published: 17 March 2021

On national Close the Gap Day (18 March) the Australian Association of Social Workers is calling for significant investment to reach the targets set out in the Closing the Gap Refresh, and a greater emphasis on First Nations people’s right to culture and language.

AASW Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Board Director, Professor Sue Green, said the government has set a number of targets, including 16 new targets, with most having a ‘by’ date of 2031, but to make any of these achievable there needs to be a focus on cultural wellbeing, including all First Nations people having access to their language and culture.

“Australia currently views the Closing the Gap targets through a Western lens and uses colonial structures, for example the Western education system, to measure progress. This is not how First Nations people shape their worldview, and it is not the way to see real progress in eradicating the inequality experienced by First Nations people.”

“The only way to Close the Gap is to stop seeing First Nations people as if they are the problem, or as if they are entrenched in the problem. We need to start ensuring that every man, woman and child, regardless of their age and location have access to their language and their culture, and that this is done in a culturally appropriate and safe manner.”

“Language and culture are paramount to First Nations people and they do not exist without each other. Language and culture strengthen peoples’ cultural identity and create the foundations for cultural wellbeing. This then sets the ground for all other forms of wellbeing and social inclusion.”

“This means that the learning of language and culture must have teaching adults, with elders and others as the starting point, so that they can teach young people and children.”

“The teaching of language must be done culturally and not as an academic exercise and thus the teaching of language must remain in the hands of the peoples whose language it is. Only then will we see the lives of First Nations people improve across the country,” Professor Green said.

AASW - Australian Association of Social Workers