Skip to Content
 Close search

Closing the Gap review

Review of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap
Draft report

Released 26 / 07 / 2023

The report sets out the Commission’s findings and recommendations on the ongoing implementation of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap by highlighting areas of improvement and emphasising where additional effort is required to close the gap.

The key messages are:

  • There is some evidence that governments demonstrate ability and willingness to partner in shared decision-making but change is not occurring.
  • Accountability is limited.
  • Progress is falling short of envisaged expectations.

Have your say

You are invited to make written, oral or video submissions by Friday 6 October 2023.

You are also welcome to make a brief comment at any time during the review.

Make a submission Make a brief comment anytime

Information papers and Fact sheets

1. The National Agreement in context and our approach to the review

Fact sheet 1: Approach and method
The National Agreement on Closing the Gap was agreed upon in 2020 and builds on:
  • Existing shared decision-making structures.
  • The previous National Agreement.
The Agreement is unlike other national agreements
  • It is the first that includes a non‑government signatory (the Coalition of Peaks).
  • It is ambitious in the scale of change required.
  • It calls for fundamental change in the way governments work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
There are four Priority Reforms in the Agreement

Priority Reform 1
Formal partnerships and shared decision-making

Priority Reform 2
Strengthening the community-controlled sector

Priority Reform 3
Transforming government organisations

Priority Reform 4
Shared access to data and information at a regional level

The Priority Reforms aim to drive achievement of the Agreement’s 17 socio-economic outcomes and 19 targets. This first review focuses on assessing progress against the Priority Reforms.


We engaged with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and communities from across the country and a wide range of sectors.

  • 121 meetings were with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations from the 186 meetings we had.
  • 15 submissions were from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations from the 32 submissions we received.
  • 4 virtual roundtables were held with organisations in priority policy areas.
Our Engagement Principles
  • Fairness and inclusivity
  • Consistent and ongoing engagement
  • Transparency and openness
  • Reciprocity
We have assessed progress by:
  • Measuring the progress of the specific commitments in the Agreement.
  • Reviewing the actions governments have set out in their implementation plans.
  • Noting where we can see progress has been made and where more work is needed.

2. Priority Reform 1 – Partnerships and shared decision-making

Fact sheet 2: Priority Reform 1 – Partnerships and shared decision-making
Priority Reform 1 commits governments to share decision-making with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through:
  • Five new policy partnerships.
  • Six new place-based partnerships.
  • Reviewing and strengthening existing partnerships.
When are governments sharing decision-making?

Governments have shown they can share decision-making when there is trust and a balance of power, including:

  • In emergencies such as during COVID-19 when governments partnered with community-controlled organisations who were well prepared to meet their communities’ needs.
  • When Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups have pushed governments to ‘come to the table’ through co-investment or convening.
  • In Victoria’s Pathway to Treaty where legislation and political commitment enables parties to work together.
What do governments still need to do?
  • Take time to properly listen to communities about their priorities instead of consulting with communities on predetermined outcomes.
  • Engage earlier and more often with communities to build trust.
  • Recognise the value Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can bring to policy development and service delivery.
  • Invest in partnerships with adequate time and funding.
  • Transform their processes and systems to become better, more credible partners.
Policy Partnership Sectors
  • Justice
  • Early Childhood Care and Development
  • Housing
  • Social and Emotional Wellbeing
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages

Overall, policy partnerships are acting more like forums, rather than a place where joint decision‑making happens. It remains to be seen how they will drive change on policy matters.

Place-based partnership locations
Map of Australia showing locations of place-based partnerships - East Kimberley (WA) in north eastern Western Australia, Maningrida (NT) on the north coast of the Northern Territory, Doomadgee (Qld) in north western Queensland, Tamworth (NSW) in eastern New South Wales, Gippsland (Vic) in south eastern Victoria, and Western Suburbs of Adelaide (SA) in south eastern South Australia.

The place‑based partnerships are still new but Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and communities had a role in choosing the locations.

3. Priority Reform 2 – Strengthening the community-controlled sector

Fact sheet 3: Priority Reform 2 – Strengthening the community-controlled sector
Priority Reform 2 commits governments to strengthening the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled (ACCO) sector

This would mean that all ACCOs could:

  • Identify problems and co‑design solutions.
  • Provide culturally safe and high-quality services.
  • Define success based on the needs of the communities they provide services to.
Governments need to:
  • Recognise that ACCOs achieve better results for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
  • Take steps to strengthen the various sectors.
  • Increase the number of services designed and delivered by ACCOs.
  • Provide dedicated, reliable, and consistent funding.
  • Change how services are designed, contracted, funded, delivered, and evaluated.
Sector strengthening

Four sector strengthening plans (SSPs) have been developed, but they lack detail and accountability. Since there is not much information on SSP progress available, it is unclear whether the SSPs will be effective in driving change.

For SSPs to be effective, governments need to be held to account for progressing the actions they have agreed on.

What is changing?

Some government departments are starting to:

  • Provide flexibility by introducing longer term contracts.
  • Prioritise funding to ACCOs in procurement, grant or program guidelines in sectors like child protection.
  • Reduce reporting requirements.

These approaches show promise and could be used more widely.

Overall, progress has been slow, and many processes still follow a business-as-usual approach to policies and programs that affect the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

4. Priority Reform 3 – Transforming government organisations

Fact sheet 4: Priority Reform 3 – Transforming government organisations
Priority Reform 3 commits all government organisations to transformation that includes:
  • Systemic and structural change.
  • Improving accountability.
  • Changing how they respond to the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
  • Identifying and eliminating racism.
  • Embedding and practicing meaningful cultural safety.
  • Improving engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
What are governments doing to transform?
  • Cultural capability training.
  • Strategies to increase employment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the public sector.
  • Engaging in self-assessment to understand their current state and how to progress Priority Reform 3.

There is a lack of whole of government or organisation-level strategies for driving and delivering this transformation.

Transformation requires ongoing changes to:

Policies and processes of government organisations

Workplace culture
in the public

Incentives that determine how public sector staff and leadership behave

Services that governments fund

What do governments still need to do?
  • Get out of doing business-as-usual and consider the scale of what they have committed to.
  • Explain what transformation looks like, how it will be achieved and how implementation will be tracked.
  • Draw on the perspectives and experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, organisations and communities to assess where institutional racism and unconscious bias lies within their systems and operations.
  • Implement the independent mechanism.

Lack of progress on Priority Reform 3 is putting the other Priority Reforms and the Agreement as a whole at risk.

5. Priority Reform 4 – Shared access to data and information at a regional level

Fact sheet 5: Priority Reform 4 – Shared access to data and information at a regional level
Priority Reform 4 commits governments to:
  • Change the way governments work with data.
  • Change the way governments work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in relation to data.
What are governments doing?
  • Most governments’ actions have been about sharing existing government data.
  • Governments do not value what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people say about how data should be used, and have not changed how data is used in policy making to reflect this.
  • Governments are not supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s data capability enough.

Overall, there has been little change relating to Priority Reform 4.

What do governments still need to do?
  • Be transparent and open to sharing data with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
  • Support government officials to change how they see their roles and responsibilities.
  • Engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to build a better understanding of what Indigenous data sovereignty means and how data systems need to change.
  • Support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations to develop data capability so they can effectively undertake data activities.
Community data projects:
  • Have been delayed and are unlikely to be established by the end of 2023, as required by the Agreement.
  • The locations for all six projects have been chosen.
  • The specific goals and topics of most projects still haven’t been decided.
  • Governments are looking to partner with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partners to decide what the goals of the community data projects are.
Have your say

The Agreement does not say that Indigenous data sovereignty is the goal of Priority Reform 4. But the commitments that have been made have some overlaps with it.

  • Should the Agreement change to say that Indigenous data sovereignty is the goal of Priority Reform 4? Why?
  • What difference would it make if the Agreement said that Indigenous data sovereignty was the goal of Priority Reform 4?

6. Tracking progress

Fact sheet 6: Tracking progress – Knowing if the Agreement is making a difference
The Agreement’s performance monitoring approach:
  • Should drive government effort and give the community consistent information on progress.
  • Is made up of hundreds of targets and indicators that measure progress towards outcomes, and most of these are not yet reported.
  • Is developed and reported based on data governance and reporting arrangements.
  • Recognises the importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander self‑determination and cultural recognition.
  • Still needs work to centre Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives.
The performance monitoring approach could be improved by:
  • Making it clear how much progress each jurisdiction is expected to contribute to the national targets.
  • Including data for communities to track the effort and progress governments are making by region.
  • Explaining how the Priority Reforms will improve socio-economic outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
  • Filling important data gaps needed to track the progress of Priority Reforms, some socio‑economic outcomes, and the role of culture in driving change.
Governments’ implementation plans and annual reports:
  • Include long lists of actions but do not explain how they will improve outcomes.
  • Do not track the same set of actions.
  • Do not stick to the reporting requirements set out in the Agreement.
  • Do not include clear information about when actions will be delivered or the amount of funding.
  • Are hard for community to use to understand the efforts governments are making to achieve the Priority Reforms.
Data governance needs to be improved
  • Progress developing data has been slow and plans have been delayed.
  • It is still not clear who is responsible for new data development.
  • There is not enough resourcing or capability to engage with data custodians and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and communities to develop solutions.
  • One organisation with relevant technical and cultural knowledge should be resourced to lead data development.
Have your say
  • Who should lead new data development, and how could data governance apply principles of Indigenous Data Sovereignty and Governance?
  • What authority, skills and qualities would this data development organisation need to deliver results?
  • What would make the public dashboard and annual data compilation reports more useful for the community?
  • How could the quality of the implementation plans and annual reports be improved?

7. Accountability for improving life outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

Fact sheet 7: Accountability – Ways to drive change

The accountability mechanisms in the National Agreement are not enough to drive change.

Governments must be accountable for:
  • Sticking to the commitments they have made under the Agreement, and for the times they have acted against the Agreement.
  • Making changes and truly transforming across departments and government agencies.
  • Improving public sector relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
To improve life outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people the accountability mechanisms need to have bite to influence the type and scale of change needed.
New proposed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, Treaty and Truth bodies can:
  • Shine a spotlight on good and bad practices.
  • Advocate for appropriate policies, programs, and services.
Some of the steps required to drive change in the public sector are:
  • Giving a senior leader or leadership group the job of pushing change across each state and territory.
  • Changing employment requirements of all public sector staff.
  • Making changes to Cabinet, Budget, funding and contracting processes to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives.
  • Publishing completed stocktakes, agreements, evaluations and other documents developed under the Agreement.
Have your say

How else can governments be held accountable?

  • Creating new commissioners in key sectors, such as Aboriginal Children’s Commissioners?
  • Which senior leader or leadership group should be given the job of pushing change?
  • Should Priority Reform 3’s independent mechanism oversee the whole Agreement?

Video: Review of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap


The National Agreement on Closing the Gap was signed by governments and the Coalition of Peaks in 2020.

It aims to fundamentally change the way governments work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The Productivity Commission must review progress of the agreement every three years.

We engaged extensively during the review, particularly with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and organisations.

We asked for submissions from the public and gathered information from governments and the Coalition of Peaks.

Our first review shows that overall Australian governments are not meeting their commitments to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Governments have made little progress towards the four priority reforms.

They have mostly taken a business as usual approach to policies affecting the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and they haven't shown that they understand the scale of the change that is needed.

We are considering ways to strengthen accountability of governments to ensure they implement what the agreement calls for.

This includes making senior government leaders responsible and accountable for driving changes to the culture of the public sector, and we want to see all government agencies develop clear plans for how they are going to transform how they work.

We will also be looking more closely at how governments are setting up independent bodies to monitor government's progress on the agreement.

We want to hear from you.

In the next few months, we will be meeting with people around Australia to hear feedback and suggestions for our final report.

You can also make a comment or submission to share your views and ideas.

The Productivity Commission acknowledges the importance of traditional language for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and is committed to strengthening Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages. We are working to expand our use of traditional language and we will soon release this animation in a number of languages covering a large geographical spread as well as languages that have a high prevalence of use.

Video: Post-release briefing


Michael Brennan

Welcome to today's presentation for those whom I don't know. Michael Brennan is my name. I'm the chair of the Productivity Commission, and I'm one of 3 Commissioners on this project in relation to the Review of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap.

I'm joined today by Romlie Mokak and Natalie Siegel-Brown, and Rom and Natalie will talk you through some of the detail of the report key findings. Things before we do that. I just wanted to make a couple of high-level observations about the report and where we've landed.

I'd like to start today by acknowledging that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are the first storytellers of this land and the Traditional Owners of country on which we live and work. And I'd like to pay my respects to elders, past and present.

I might also thank many of you for the contributions that you have made to this project over the course of the last several months. It's not over yet because this is a draft report, but we've benefited enormously from the engagement that we've had from governments, Community-controlled organisations, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community groups and individuals across the country, and we trust that that will be maintained and we're going to continue that engagement through to the final report late in the year.

A couple of key things about the Closing the Gap Agreement that are significant and have guided us in where we've landed in relation to the interim report.

One of the key things about this Closing the Gap Agreement signed in 2020, that's a bit different to its predecessors is firstly that it was the first of its kind which was struck not only with all governments, national, federal, state and territory governments and the Local Government Association, but also with the Coalition of Peak Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations with the. Sorry, the Coalition of Peak Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, so an agreement explicitly with representatives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations.

So that brings with it a different level of expectation, a different level of accountability to the Agreements of its type in the past. The second, as you will be aware, is that the Agreement combines both the identified socioeconomic outcomes, which attract and on which the Productivity Commission reports periodically. But also, the four Priority Reforms. Which in many ways is the centrepiece of this particular review.

That this is the first 3 yearly review under the Agreement by the Productivity Commission, and because it's relatively early days in the light of the Agreement, we felt that it was a logical focus for us to look at the four Priority Reforms, how governments have gone in delivering on those reforms, as agreed in in the 2020 Agreement.

The second observation is that there is a shifting landscape. Since 2020, the several developments have occurred at the state level. We've got moved towards the Voice to Parliament or to government in some states. We have treaty processes, truth telling processes. As well, and of course, we have at the national level the referendum in relation to a constitutionally enshrined Voice.

Now of course the Productivity Commission is not taking a view in respect of that referendum issue. What we're really focused on is the 2020 Agreement and what it is that governments have committed to under that agreement and whether or not governments are meeting, in effect, their obligations under it.

If I can move to the next slide and the final observation that I'll just make about this report is that this is a draft report. No doubt it will result in a degree of reaction, hopefully stimulate some further engagement, some further thought and some further reactions. There will be some stakeholders, no doubt, who will disagree with elements of where we've landed as an interim in terms of our findings and potential recommendations.

There are some areas where we've got some proposals that we'd like to test with stakeholders. That's natural and we hope that there will be a degree of disagreement as well as some areas of agreement and that that will underpin the engagement and consultation and submissions as we move towards the final.

So, if I can move to the high-level findings, which is on the next slide before I hand over to Romlie and to Natalie. The broad assessment is this that basically when we look at the implementation plans that governments have laid out and the progress the governments have made against them when we talk to government, but also when we talk to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and people and organisations on the ground.

Of course, we identified that some good things are happening and many of those are laid out in both the report and the information papers which accompany it. Some formal structures around partnership are certainly in place, and there are a large number of actions stipulated in the various implementation plans numbering over 2000.

But overall, our judgement is that the scale of change is incremental. And the scope of change reflects a business-as-usual approach, so there is still a disconnect between the sort of transformative change that is envisaged in the Agreement and laid out there, particularly embodied in the four Priority Reforms.

On the one hand, and the tangible steps that governments have taken on the other. A bit of a disconnect between the actions listed in the various implementation plans and how they combine and contribute to progress under the socioeconomic indicators that are also outcomes, rather that are the enshrined in the Agreement.

Now, none of this is easy. It's not to say that nothing good is happening. And again, I repeat, it's a draft report and we want to continue to hear where governments feel that there is positive action, but also where other stakeholders feel that that there's inadequate action as we move towards the final report.

We’ve very much calibrated our assessment against the level of ambition that we think is reflected in the 2020 National Agreement. So, I'll hand over first to Romlie and then to Natalie to talk us through some of the detail.

Romlie Mokak

Thanks, Michael. Might move to the next slide. So, we've come to the view our overall assessment as Michael's just stepped us through that progress has been poor on what governments have said, there are thousands of actions listed in implementation plans over 2000 at last count through their annual reports.

And other information that we've been able to access. But also importantly, we've come to that view based on what we've heard. So, we've engaged widely, the Commission's held. About 186 specifically 190 meetings, of which about 120 have been with Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander people and organisations, we've held round tables. We've received submissions. And we've also sought information from governments.

This information isn't always provided and what was provided. In many cases we were limited in what we could publish. In terms of what was permitted to be published. So, while that information has helped inform our thinking. It also means that there are gaps in information that we can include in this review, which will reduces the strength of the review as an accountability mechanism.

And one thing that we are seeking as a part of this draft report are responses, information, responses, and seeking submissions that from government, particularly that are able to be published. And so, we're very keen for that to occur.

I'll now move through. And into the Priority Reform. So as Michael said this, this is what distinguishes this agreement from the previous Closing the Gap Agreement, these are the pillars really within the Agreement which are about driving change and making a difference in terms of the targets.

Governments are taking small steps to change their business-as-usual approach on how they partner and share decision making with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. For example, we've seen where legislation or agreements mandate this approach, the shared decision-making approach, we can see some development, for example, treaty processes in Victoria.

We've also seen that where there are compelling drivers. In the form of a crisis, COVID-19 being the obvious one, governments themselves saw that they had insufficient knowledge and connectivity with Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander communities, so they saw value in sharing decision making and partnerships with Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations.

And where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations have pushed governments to the table. To come to the table. Such as, co-investment approaches, for example, in Groot Eylandt through Anindilyakwa Land Council and the Northern Territory government and local decision-making processes. We've seen that shared decision making can occur. So, there are a couple of examples there where shared decision making, proper partnerships can happen. We're clearly not seeing enough of that.

So overall, our engagements with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations have not identified systemic change. Which in, when and how decisions are made indicating that there's limited progress in government sharing decision making.

We've heard that governments continue to consult. Rather than properly engage. Continue to consult on predetermined outcomes and often engaging late in the process, leaving very little room for Indigenous organisations, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and communities to actually input sufficiently into decision making or the policy development policy making cycle.

The elements contained within the shared decision making under Priority Reform 4 do not appear to have been adopted more widely in practise beyond formal partnerships, and there are partnerships that that are obviously negotiated and in and in train.

This is despite the recognition that shared decision making is essential to building trust and paving the way for implementation of all of the Priority Reforms. So, trust is an underpinning factor across all of the Priority Reforms and that can't be, can't be over emphasised.

Within Priority Reform 1, there are also partnerships, policy partnerships and place-based partnerships. Overall, both partnerships. Has seen very little progress. Progress has been very slow.

Our focus within this report is on the Justice Policy Partnership, that being the longest standing partnership, having been established in 2021 and the others are at the very early stages. There are varied views around the effectiveness of the Justice Policy Partnership (the JPP). Some are concerned that it is acting more as a forum discussion rather than an opportunity to jointly identify and agree a clear set of actions and responsibilities for reducing incarceration.

There are concerns as well, expressed about insufficient representation from people who have lived experience of incarceration. And also, an inconsistency between the objective of the JPP, that being reducing incarceration and steps, actions, policies taken, decisions taken by jurisdictions that are at odds with that objective, such as the introduction of stronger bail laws.

In terms of the place-based partnerships, there are six of those partnerships, very early days. And one could tell they're still in their infancy. One positive aspect of this is that governments seem to have heard the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and organisations in determining the selection of those locations.

Moving to Priority Reform 2 – strengthening Aboriginal community-controlled organisations. For this first review, we've focused our assessment on progress towards PR 2 on the commissioning relationship between governments and I’ll use the shorthand ACCOs. So, a key element in achieving a strong community control sector is ensuring that ACCOs have flexible, reliable and consistent funding that covers the full range of service provision costs.

How funding is allocated, and the commissioning process is central to supporting ACCOs to provide high quality, holistic and culturally safe services for their communities. We've found that some agencies are doing better. Some are introducing greater of flexibility, longer contracts, reducing the reporting burden.

Others are prioritising ACCOs in procurement, grant and programme guidelines. And while some of these approaches show promise, they would need to be rolled out. On a much more widely, much more widely, before ACCOs and service users will be able to see any great improvements on the ground.

Overall, our assessment is that progress toward PR2 is piecemeal, and many processes are still business as usual. The key issue that was raised throughout our engagements with ACCOs is that sometimes they're treated as passive recipients of government funding. We've heard examples of government often rigidly applying generic pre-existing models of service and program design instead of allowing ACCOs to design those services and measure the outcomes as best meets and needs for their own communities.

Priority Reform 2, and this cannot be emphasised enough as well, requires more than shifting service delivery from government or non-government organisations toward ACCOs. Genuine sector strengthening would give ACCOs the decision making and leadership position to genuinely identify the problems, design the solutions, deliver the services and define success in a way that meets the priorities and needs of their communities.

So not enough just to shift, in a transactional sense, services across from government, non-government organisations to ACCOs. More collaborative and relational approaches to contracting combined with long term, flexible funding would help support this. The Productivity Commission itself has in past reports, said that funding should be longer term. Contracts should be up to 7 years, so these are obvious considerations under this agreement as well.

Governments will also need to better value the knowledge and the expertise that ACCOs bring. And this requires governments to transform in line with Priority Reform 3, the next priority.

To Priority Reform 3 – transforming government. Among the hundreds of actions, around 2000 at last count, that governments are pursuing, there is no clear strategy for transformation that underpins those the individual actions.

That is to say that it is not at all clear that governments have deeply examined their systems, their structures and their operations in a way that the Agreement requires. Now this is a problem if you're trying to drive structural change. Because agencies have different people to serve, they do different things.

Transformation across government granted will inevitably vary. But the first step of any organisation implementing Priority Reform 3 is assessing how their current ways of working align with Priority Reform 3 and the Agreement more broadly.  It appears that very few government organisations have actually initiated this first step.

The lack of progress on Priority Reform 3 is putting progress of all of the Priority Reforms under threat. And the Agreement doesn't put these Priority Reforms, all four of them, in a hierarchy. But it's clear that Priority Reform 3 is critical to the improvement across all outcomes and impacting all other Priority Reform areas.

Engaging in genuine partnerships, building community control sector, changing the way that governments undertake data activities will all be supported by implementing Priority Reform 3. And as I can, I'll repeat, all are currently hindered by the lack of progress toward Priority Reform 3.

One thing that I will mention as well is that the Agreement. all score, is a commitment to an independent mechanism, so in order to assist with Priority Reform 3, governments agreed to identify, develop and strengthen an independent mechanism to support and report on the transformation of mainstream government organisations themselves.

Our assessment is that it's unlikely that governments will meet this commitment by the due date, that the agreed time frame of the end of 2023. The lack of progress on establishing the independent mechanism across jurisdictions is a serious concern for the Agreement.

The contrast between what governments include in their implementation plans and annual reports. and what we've heard on the ground is proof that independent scrutiny of the transformation of government organisations is critical. The independent. I can't emphasise enough as well that the movement on establishing the independent mechanisms is so important. Maybe to the next slide.

So, the Priority Reform 4 – shared access to data. So, PR 4 is about Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander people having access to and the capability to use locally relevant data and information to set and monitor their own priorities and drive their own development. Although some of the text in the Agreement frames Priority Reform 4 as being about sharing data, it is clearly about much more than that.

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to have access to and capability to use data, there needs to be system level change in the way that data is used. Governments need to give greater voice to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples ways. Indigenous peoples’ ways of using data and change the ways in which government use data and governments also need under the Agreement to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, organisations to strengthen their data capability.

Overall, our assessment is that there's been very little change relating to PR4. There's some small-scale developments, but governments have not made system wide change in how data is used to inform policy.

In terms of capability, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to report lack of support to build their data capability and in some cases, on the sharing side of things, we've heard, in many cases, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations saying that there has been an unwillingness of governments to share data on the very partnerships that are being developed. This is of serious concern.

Across our engagements as well. Many people have talked about indigenous data sovereignty. And wanting to own their data in the context of Priority Reform 4. But the Agreement doesn't explicitly mention Indigenous data sovereignty. In fact, the only mention of Indigenous data sovereignty is in the data development plan. Where one of the principles of the data – for data development is that parties acknowledge Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander led work on Indigenous data sovereignty.

So, our view is that indigenous data sovereignty, from what we've heard, is clearly relevant to Priority Reform 4. The Agreement is just not explicit about how.

So, we're seeking more information as a part of this draft report and the information requests that we've put forward, about what parties are thinking about in terms of - with regard to Indigenous data sovereignty and how it might fit with PR4.

I think that's it for Priority Reform, the Priority Reforms, so I'll hand over to my colleague Nat now. Thanks, Nat.

Natalie Siegel-Brown

Thanks, Rom. Beyond the specific Priority Reforms that Rom's just talked about, it was also critical that we look at the entire agreement and ask ourselves, are the right mechanisms in place to make sure governments reach the ambition they committed to in the time frame.

And this came down to accountability performance and how it's monitored. That then raised questions as to whether these over 2000 actions listed in implementation plans will get us there, and if the performance framework is calibrated in a way that will enable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and governments to track progress meaningfully.

Importantly, what we found is that there was no articulated or demonstrated conceptual logic or a theory of change. So, under the Agreement, these implementation plans that set out government actions to achieve the change committed to, I mean to rigorously set out how they will achieve the Priority Reforms and the socioeconomic targets.

But we couldn't find any demonstration of how the over 2000 actions would develop based on that theory of change, that is, there was, we couldn't see anything that set the vision and then a road map back that would articulate how particular actions would get us to the change that was committed under the Agreement. And with the radical reform committed to by the parties, it's not really possible to see how that change under the Agreement could be achieved without that rigorous logic underneath it.

Similarly, the performance monitoring framework identifies hundreds of indicators without a clear rationale for their inclusion. So, without a logic to guide, how indicators were selected, there's a real risk that performance data will fail to track the changes that are critical to progress under the Agreement.

Also, as you can see on the slide here, people across the country told us it's data more at the jurisdictional level and the regional level where the meaning is. Aggregating data points on real life outcomes up to the national level can actually dilute their meaning, and some of the national data is not really giving us a true picture of progress, or indeed where there are major areas of deficit, because some jurisdictions or some regions are going really well, others are drastically underperforming. But one can mask the other.

As we've talked about earlier in the presentation, implementation plans contain long lists of actions, but there's not real explanation on how they will collectively achieve the scale and the pace of change that's needed to embed the Priority Reforms across all government entities.

And even with those. Hundreds of indicators that are there, a number of still not yet reported on. Even after the 3 years in and we still have none for the Priority Reforms and very limited ones on the cultural determinants of life outcomes.

So, as you know, the Agreements performance monitoring framework is intended to drive government effort and provide public accountability for progress. But, in our preliminary assessment, the design of the performance framework doesn't enable that, and so we're suggesting that there needs to be a rethink in the design of performance monitoring and we're asking whether that overwhelming number of indicators is really able to be tied to change and maybe whether it's preferable to move to more limited set of indicators that go to the heart of demonstrating change.

So, on the next slide, we're briefly just going to talk about the performance monitoring arrangements. With that in mind, all of these problems make it really difficult for the community to keep governments accountable and understand the action that governments are taking and whether they'll lead to a change in outcomes.

When we don't have that collective explanation of how all these multiple actions will lead to the scale and pace of change that's needed, it's very difficult for people to see whether any one particular indicator is meaningful in getting us to the change, and it can be very overwhelming then to hold anyone accountable.

In respect of the development of data and the development of performance data, there's currently no one with any clear responsibility for developing data for the Priority Reforms or the socioeconomic targets, or for the supporting indicators where we've got no suitable data and there's also no clear venue or process to resolve broader issues in monitoring. So, for example, the need to clarify the conceptual logic or prioritise particular indicators for development or even identify the appropriate level of regional or jurisdictional data disaggregation.

So that responsibility remained unclear. It split across multiple working groups and organisations, including the Productivity Commission.

So, we're supporting, we're suggesting that data governance arrangements could be improved by consolidating responsibility for the coordination of new data development under one organisation. That's something we're asking people's views on, but it is absolutely imperative that whoever that singular organisation or body is, it needs to have the resourcing and the capability to engage data custodians and Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander organisations and community in developing appropriate solutions.

For the next slide or two we’ll be really focusing on accountability, which as you can imagine again, underpins the entirety of the Agreement. And communities, ACCOs and governments that we engage with almost universally agreed that the linchpin, the strength of the Agreement, are its Priority Reforms.

All of them felt that the Priority Reforms went to the heart of levering change and there was a very strong commitment to them. Yet, the lack of accountability for delivering on the Priority Reforms was also something that was observed pretty much universally across our engagement.

Some governments are continuing to make decisions that contradict their commitments under the Agreement, and Rom talked about a couple of those earlier in the presentation. Certainly, we continue to see decisions that do not reflect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people's priorities and perspectives and we see some decisions that exacerbate rather than remedy disadvantage and discrimination.

Really importantly here, there are no consequences for failure. And importantly, there's no real time consequences for failure. So, for example, when consultation occurs by governments with Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander communities on decisions that are effectively already made, there is nothing that enables the Agreement to be held as the intervention point here, where a commitment was made to do the opposite.

So, we we've certainly heard around the country that there are very real-life consequences for failure against the Priority Reforms. And the accountability mechanisms that exist, things like implementation plans and annual reports – even this 3 yearly review and our data dashboard, they can't deliver those timely consequences.

Aside from the real time accountability in these mechanisms, most of the tools like annual reports and implementation plans also don't have that level of independence needed to create accountability. To some degree, they're like a self-assessment.

So those two issues together mean that the responsibilities of each party to the Agreement are obscured, and they're not informed by high quality evaluation. So, in the report, we find that stronger mechanisms are needed so that governments and public servants are held accountable for acting in accordance with the Agreement.

You heard earlier when Rom talked about Priority Reform 3, the commitment to transform government, that work has not yet commenced on the independent mechanism that was originally intended to hold governments accountable for that transformation under that Priority Reform, but we've got a broader question as to whether that particular independent mechanism could apply beyond Priority Reform 3 to create accountability for the whole agreement.

There's also a residual question about whether the National Agreement when we look at the new world in which we currently exist, which is quite different to the one that existed at the time that the Agreement was signed in 2020.

We have a world where there are truth telling inquiries being established, treaty mechanisms being set up and a national Voice to Parliament being proposed. There's a question as to whether these mechanisms could have a complementary role in delivering accountability for Closing the Gap agreement commitments.

We are at pains to emphasise in the report that we don't think any of those particular processes should substitute government commitments under the Agreement, but we do ask the question as to what role they could play in underscoring accountability for performance under the Agreement.

So, some of the options for change which will appear on the next slide are contained within the report and they're things on which we're seeking further feedback.

A couple of caveats around this. What you see here are definitely some of the more traditional accountability mechanisms that are used elsewhere in the public service. By no means are these all the options we're looking at, and we're interested in hearing some of the innovative approaches used elsewhere to incentivise change in not just public servant behaviour, but in system behaviour, in particular in relation to some of the elements of Priority Reform 3, like identifying and eliminating racism.

And we'll be looking at some of the successes of those various approaches and testing them for the purposes of our final report.

What you can see here are the concepts contained in the report for testing. So, designating a senior leader or leadership group to drive change throughout the public sector in each jurisdiction.

Potentially embedding responsibility for improving the public sector's relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people into the core employment requirements and performance assessments of all public sector CEO's, executives and employees.

This is something that's already embedded within legislation in Queensland and there are other jurisdictions internationally that have attempted to use these kind of public service mechanisms to change behaviours that we're interested in too.

Another one is ensuring that central agencies lead the changes to Cabinet budget funding and contracting processes that are needed to deliver the outcomes for the Agreement, and as we mentioned earlier, the potential option of expanding the role of that independent mechanism that is proposed under Priority Reform 3, the transformation of governments Priority Reform, to oversee agency commitments not just on Priority Reform 3, but the whole agreement.

So, the idea would be that mechanism could be positioned to shine a spotlight on good and bad practises under the Agreement, advocate for improved policies, programmes and services. But it also opens up a question as to what levers that independent mechanism would actually have at its disposal to enforce accountability.

None of these reforms would be able on their own to shift the trajectory of progress and we recognise that, however, it's possible that in concert they could influence the incentives of people working at all levels of government.

And of course, stronger accountability measures will only be effective if they're implemented in ways that are consistent with the Agreement and sent to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and perspectives. So, thank you so much for your attention. I'm going to hand over briefly now to Michael just to talk about next steps in the stage that we're at this part of the Agreement, a little bit more about our next phase of engagement.

Michael Brennan

Thank you very much, Natalie. And thank you, Rom.

So that gives you a sense of where we are landing our draft or interim assessment of the landscape. You can think of it as incorporating 3 things: some draft findings, some concrete proposals on which we're seeking feedback and also of course, some information requests we will be seeking further input from stakeholders between now and the final report.

Needless to say, we welcome feedback. We welcome feedback, particularly in a publishable form.

We welcome feedback based on the evidence that can be used to determine or strengthen or rebut findings that you find here in the interim report.

So, the interim report is out now. There's a period of ongoing engagement that will go through until November.

There'll be a second phase of submissions which will close on the 6th of October and that will allow us to incorporate all of that input towards finalising a report, which will go to the Joint Council on Closing the Gap in December of this year.

So, I'd like to thank you again both of your presence here, but also for your ongoing engagement and involvement throughout this journey. And we look forward to continued engagement. As we look to finalise the report in the second half of this year, thank you.

Media release

Governments falling short on Closing the Gap commitments

Australian governments do not appear to have grasped the nature and scale of change required to accelerate improvements in life outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people under the National Agreement on Closing the Gap.

The Productivity Commission’s first overarching review of the Agreement highlights the lack of meaningful progress in implementing the four key priority reforms set out by all governments and the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Organisations in 2020.

“This Agreement held – and continues to hold – significant promise. It takes a different approach: a partnership between government and peak Indigenous groups focused on lifting outcomes by changing the systems and structures that drive them. But so far we are seeing too much business-as-usual and too little real transformation,” said Productivity Commission Chair Michael Brennan.

The report finds that, despite their commitment to do so, governments are not yet sharing power with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in a way that enables decisions to be made in genuine partnership. It shows that little effort has been made to reform government agencies or to strengthen the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled sector.

“Consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people cannot be on solutions that are pre-determined – governments need to allow Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to make decisions for themselves and their communities,” said Commissioner Natalie Siegel-Brown.

Instead, governments have listed thousands of initiatives that are disconnected from each other and the ambitions of the Agreement, many of which represent a relabelling of existing practices.

Partly as a consequence of this, the Commission heard from the 200 groups they met with, including 121 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, that government action towards the Agreement is not being felt on the ground.

The report finds that, in particular, slow progress on Priority Reform 3 – requiring the reform of government itself – is impeding progress towards the other Priority Reforms in the Agreement.

“Priority Reform 3 of the Agreement makes it clear that to drive change government agencies need to change how they work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We are yet to identify a government organisation that has a clear vision for what transformation looks like and a strategy to achieve it,” said Commissioner Romlie Mokak.

The report finds that much stronger accountability mechanisms are needed to achieve the priority reforms.

“Governments continue to make decisions that disregard or contradict the Agreement. Without better accountability mechanisms, we are unlikely to see the transformative changes governments have committed to," said Commissioner Mokak.

The Commission is requesting further information and feedback on its draft recommendations. Submissions and brief comments in response to this draft report are welcome by 6 October 2023. The Commission will also be meeting with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and governments before providing the final report to the Joint Council on Closing the Gap by the end of 2023.

The Review of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap draft report is available from

Media requests

Simon Kinsmore – 02 6240 3330 /

Printed copies

Printed copies of this report can be purchased from Canprint Communications.

Draft report

Information papers 1 to 7 combined