Indigenous councilor says local government key to ‘closing the gap’

The first Aboriginal person to be elected to the Tamworth Regional Council in the North West New South Wales says grassroots community engagement with indigenous peoples is crucial to reduce the gap.

“Indigenous people have asked for their voice to be heard on local issues and on priorities that are important to them,” said Tamworth Regional Council councilor and Gomeroi man Marc Sutherland.

“The voice coming from the Indigenous community is that closing the gap must be led by Indigenous peoples and supported by government, not the other way around.”

Man from Gomeroi Marc Sutherland and student at the Cultural Academy of Gomeroi. (Provided)
Close the Gap Native Aboriginal Flag
26/01/21 Thousands marched in solidarity with Indigenous Australians during the annual Invasion Day March in Melbourne. Photograph by Chris Hopkins (Chris Hopkins)

Close The Gap aims to address and end the gross inequality that exists between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. This year’s campaign report highlighted the importance of Indigenous community-controlled services, which Mr Sutherland says are doing a great job in Tamworth.

“The conversation is really about ‘what can local government do?'” he said.

“What can Tamworth Area Council do to really support the work that is already underway and help the community fill in some of the gaps that still exist, trying to address these priority areas and some of these goals?”

Mr Sutherland said that while local government has historically not been a major player in “bridging the gap”, things are starting to change as councils are the level of government closest to the people.

“Closing the Gap is important in order to be able to focus on the goals that currently exist trying to provide some social equality and it is a space in which local government in New South Wales has generally not been a player. major,” he said. .

“But recently, local governments have really committed to supporting these target areas.”

Tamworth Marc Sutherland Gomeroi closes the gap
Councilor Marc Sutherland and Tamworth Regional Youth Council. (New / Supplied)

In late 2021, the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) released an implementation plan that improves shared policymaking and decision-making at local government level.

Association chair Linda Scott said local government recognizes the need to reduce the social and economic disadvantages faced by Indigenous Australians and particularly those living in remote communities.

ALGA is calling on the Commonwealth Government to provide $100 million per year over four years to local governments to support the capacity and capacity of Indigenous Councils and to implement Gap Closing.

“We know that if this funding is allocated, it would create 804 jobs across the country,” Ms. Scott said.

“It would bring $117 million to Australia and, more importantly, it would fund the work that local governments are proud to do to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.”

marc sutherland tamworth regional council bridging the gap
Marc Sutherland is the first Aboriginal person to be elected as a councilor on Tamworth Regional Council. (Provided)

While the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have improved over the years, the disadvantage gap is far from closed.

“Indigenous life expectancy in this country is still more than 10 years different from non-Indigenous people,” Sutherland said, adding that the council is considering 17 places to address the disparity.

“To improve it, we cannot just look at health and education. We are now looking at employment, we are now looking at housing, we are looking at justice, we are looking at mental health.

“All of these areas that were previously outside of the goal of closing the gap have now been brought in, and so as a community and as the local government closest to the communities trying to figure out what we can do to better support outcomes in these spaces, to ensure Indigenous programming will be delivered by Indigenous people to achieve better outcomes for our communities.”

Mr Sutherland said it “meant a lot” to be the first person from Gomeroi elected to serve the community at local government level in the area.

“If we’re going to advocate for national change or state change, it’s important that we toe the line and lead the way from the perspective of our local government and, and that’s what I I’m really passionate about doing.”