SCOTT Morrison has overruled the minister for indigenous Australians and flagged a possible delay to a referendum on constitutional recognition.
Ken Wyatt has previously said he wants to hold the national vote by mid-next year but the prime minister has refused to commit to a timeline.
“I am not going to allow any timelines to prevent the successful achievement of this result,” Mr Morrison told federal parliament on Wednesday.
“My position on this matter I have set out very clearly.
“Those opposite (Labor) have a very different view as to the manner and form of this to those in the government, and I think that presents a lack of consensus.”
Labor wants the referendum to focus on enshrining an indigenous voice to parliament in the constitution, as proposed in the 2017 Uluru Statement.
The prime minister has rejected the idea, wanting a voice to government to be legislated instead.
Indigenous groups are also urging the government to act swiftly after it hailed the beginning of a “new era” of improving the health and life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday released the latest Closing the Gap report, declaring things are “better than they were … but we have not made as much progress as we should have by now.
“The results are not good enough,” he told parliament.
“Over decades, our top-down, ‘government knows best’ approach has not delivered the improvements we all need.
“Today I make the final report of an old approach, as well as the first report of a new era.”
He said the new approach would take the form of a partnership with indigenous people.
I am optimistic that we can Close the Gap, not overnight, but overtime, in partnership and through genuine engagement with all Indigenous Australians.https://t.co/lKJhgBpMwa
— Ken Wyatt MP (@KenWyattMP) February 11, 2020
The announcement was applauded by a cluster of community-controlled indigenous groups, known as the Coalition of Peaks.
Catherine Liddle, chief executive of First Nations Media, stressed the importance of locally-led action.
“What’s different about this is we are taking some level of ownership,” she said.
Jamie Lowe, chief of the National Native Title Council, said it was crucial the government showed its commitment by taking action.
“If you look back over the past 200 years … it’s been a broken record,” he said.
“Hopefully in 12 months’ time and into the future we can make some significant inroads and changes for our people.”
The report reveals indigenous health and employment continue to be concerns, with child mortality twice as high among the indigenous population.
Mr Morrison believes the reporting method has many shortcomings, masked “real progress” and failed to build lasting partnerships with indigenous communities.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese repeated his call for an indigenous voice to be enshrined in the constitution and stronger political leadership.
“Enshrining the voice to parliament will be the work of one successful referendum, but … ensuring the voice speaks in the design and delivery of policy, ensuring the voice advocates the rights and interests of First Nations peoples, that is a task for national political leadership,” he said.
Indigenous NT Labor senator Malarndirri McCarthy said the prime minister was passing the buck, and the lack of progress was a direct result of poor policy.
“When we look at policies like the cashless debit card, which entrenches First Nations people in poverty, of course we’re not going to see the outcomes that we want to see in health, in education, in housing, in life expectancy,” she told AAP.
“You need to do more than say that it’s someone else’s problem, prime minister.”
Only two of the seven targets are rated as “on track”: early childhood education enrolments and Year 12 attainment.
Mr Morrison and state and territory leaders are expected to sign a formal agreement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak organisations later this year to drive improvements at a local, regional and national level over the next decade.