The National Indigenous Reform Agreement (NIRA) of 2012 was a landmark agreement between the Australian Government and Indigenous leaders aimed at improving the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The agreement was designed to address the significant gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in areas such as health, education, employment, and community safety.
One of the key features of the NIRA was its focus on partnerships between the Australian Government and Indigenous leaders. The agreement recognized that Indigenous communities were best placed to identify their own priorities and develop solutions that were culturally appropriate and effective. To this end, the NIRA established a number of mechanisms for Indigenous leaders to be involved in decision-making and policy development.
The NIRA also set out a range of specific targets and outcomes that were to be achieved by 2018. These included closing the gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, halving the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous children under five, and ensuring that 95% of Indigenous four-year-olds were enrolled in early childhood education.
The NIRA was significant not only for its ambitious targets, but also for its recognition of the importance of addressing the structural and systemic issues that underpin Indigenous disadvantage. The agreement called for a whole-of-government approach to Indigenous policy, in which all government departments would work together to achieve the agreed targets. It also emphasized the need for long-term planning and sustainable funding to ensure that progress continued beyond the life of the agreement.
Despite the high aspirations of the NIRA, progress towards the agreed targets has been slow. While some improvements have been made in areas such as Indigenous employment and early childhood education, the gaps in health outcomes and mortality rates for Indigenous people remain large. Critics of the agreement have argued that it did not go far enough in addressing the root causes of Indigenous disadvantage, such as the ongoing impacts of colonisation and dispossession.
In 2018, the Australian Government renewed its commitment to closing the gap in Indigenous disadvantage by endorsing a new Closing the Gap strategy. This strategy acknowledges the shortcomings of the NIRA and seeks to address them by prioritising Indigenous leadership and community involvement, and by focusing on the social and economic determinants of health.
In conclusion, while the NIRA was an important step towards addressing Indigenous disadvantage in Australia, it was not sufficient to achieve the ambitious targets it set out. Moving forward, it is essential that any policy initiatives aimed at closing the gap in Indigenous outcomes are developed in partnership with Indigenous communities and are grounded in an understanding of the historical and ongoing impacts of colonisation.