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Source: Australian Executive Government Ministers

Today is National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s day.

It is our opportunity to show support for Indigenous children, celebrate their strengths and culture, and to recognise the ongoing knowledge and wisdom of the world’s longest living continuous culture.

This year’s theme, We are the Elders of tomorrow, hear our voice, highlights the importance of listening to young people as a crucial part of their development into influential Elders and future leaders.

A strong start in life is critical – it lays the foundation for the years ahead – and if successful can ensure a prosperous life.

There is a critical window from conception to around age five where we can positively influence the health, development and identity of children more than any other time in life.

Last Thursday, the Prime Minister and I announced the National Agreement on Closing the Gap – which established five policy priority areas between the Commonwealth, states and territories and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives.

Among these priorities is early childhood care and responsibility – with a new commitment to shared decision-making, responsibility and accountability – and a renewed focus on identifying opportunities to work more effectively across government, reduce gaps and duplication, and improve outcomes under Closing the Gap.

Within the new National Agreement are three early childhood targets, which all Australian Governments and the Coalition of Peaks have agreed to.

This will help ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are born healthy and strong, are engaged in high quality, culturally appropriate early childhood education and thrive in their early years.

If we get these foundational elements right, so many other measures of life outcomes will be better off.

To ensure children thrive from the very beginning, the Morrison Government in partnership with the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC, the non-government peak body representing the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families) is developing the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Early Childhood Strategy.

The Strategy will provide a long-term approach to refocus policy and investment, and enable stronger collaboration and coordination across whole of government, the early childhood system and, most importantly, families and children on the ground.

In developing this strategy, I will work closely with the Minister for Health, the Minister for Education and the Minister for Families and Social Services to ensure a whole of government approach.

Families are the custodians of future generations of this country. They are the nurturers, the protectors, the first teachers, and connectors to cultural knowledge and identity. This is sacred and important business.

We will listen and learn about the vision they hold for their children: what it means to be safe, resilient and thriving in our country. These conversations will be woven into the fabric of the Strategy and will be ongoing.

The Strategy will focus on priority areas such as safety, education, health, cultural connection and strength, and seek to align cross-portfolio investments looking at early development holistically.

Ultimately, the Strategy will guide our approach to Closing the Gap in early life outcomes across Australia and will enable other national frameworks for early childhood education and children to give strong consideration to the needs of Indigenous children.

We will listen to the service providers who are critical to the success of such a Strategy.

Knowing how we can bring a shared vision to life through evidence and understanding what works.

We all want children to feel safe, be healthy, feel ready and want to participate and learn at school, and for parents, aunties, uncles and grandparents to feel confident and empowered to guide children’s learning and development. This Strategy will support families to continue to be the custodians of future generations of this country.

We have been speaking a lot recently about partnerships and co-design. The Morrison Government recognises that we need more people in the room, setting directions and making decisions, to ensure the right resources are committed to the right projects.

We are placing Indigenous policy development and service delivery closer to the people who will benefit from a linked up and co-ordinated approach – an approach built on empowerment, shared responsibility and shared accountability.

Now is the time, at a national level, to realise a dedicated and coordinated approach for improving Indigenous childhood outcomes. An approach that will open doors to children and families increasing accessibility.

Investing in children in their first five years of life will have the greatest impact on addressing barriers and will set children up for success in education, employment, long-term health, and connection to community.

It’s these sorts of initiatives that will give life to the Closing the Gap Agreement and ensure we deliver a more prosperous and empowering future for Indigenous Australians.