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The Australian National University

Beyond Closing the Gap: Valuing diversity in Indigenous Australia

Working Paper 54 / 2009


This working paper examines the notion of Closing the Gap in socioeconomic disadvantage as the new over-arching framework in Indigenous affairs promulgated by the Rudd government in 2008. It is shown that such an approach, seeking statistical equality between Indigenous and other Australians, has had a long policy history and so is not new. Some statistics are presented from earlier work with Nicholas Biddle and Boyd Hunter that track the historic record of Closing the Gap from 1971 to 2006 using census data, and some predications are presented on how long Closing the Gap might take across a range of variables. Some conceptual shortcomings of this framework are summarised and then two cases — focused on remote area employment and a livelihoods approach — are provided of the empirical and policy problems that these shortcomings create. The key argument in this paper is that there is an over-emphasis in the Closing the Gap approach on equality between Indigenous and other Australians and too little emphasis on diversi