Malcolm Turnbull has been criticised for leaving an Indigenous event early on the same day a new report accused the government of abandoning the Closing the Gap policy.
After the Close the Gap Steering Committee function on Thursday morning, Labor senator Pat Dodson launched a scathing attack on the Prime Minister’s decision to leave “15 minutes before the whole show was over”.
“He may have had something important to do, but he should have stayed there and listened,” he said.
“His staff surely knew what the time allocations were. It’s indicative of the deafness, of the absolute derision, and the contempt which this government is meting out to the Aboriginal people. We gotta get real about it.”
Mr Turnbull infuriated Indigenous groups last year after he rejected the key proposal from the Uluru statement – a voice to Parliament.
Speaking after the event, Mr Dodson said he hoped other nations criticised Australia for failing to improve the plight of Aboriginal people.
“This is a major event, this is an international event,” he said.
“This will go overseas, and if anyone focused on the leader of this nation walking out on a major report by reputable Aboriginal leaders, they’d have to think, well, we really do feel for the Indigenous people of this country.”
The Prime Minister had to leave about 8.30am due to another commitment, according to his office.
A spokesman told the ABC that organisers were aware of Mr Turnbull’s departure time, and that the event ran overtime.
Close the Gap campaign founder Tom Calma said organisers “knew what time the Prime Minister had to leave”.
“I think it’s never a good look when we’ve all come together,” Dr Calma said.
“But that’s circumstances, and it wasn’t a surprise. We knew what time he had to leave.
“He’ll get a copy of the speech, of what we said.”
Watch Pat Dodson’s press conference
On Thursday, both Mr Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten attended the Close the Gap Campaign Steering Committee event in Canberra.
Ahead of the release of the government-led Closing The Gap’s 10-year report card on Monday, the steering committee released its own review, which accused of the government abandoning the Closing the Gap policy.
“A revolving door of prime ministers, Indigenous affairs ministers and senior bureaucrats have all but halted the steady progress hoped for by First Peoples,” the review said.
“After the initial funding commitments made for the Closing the Gap strategy … the strategy was effectively abandoned with the extensive cuts, over $530 million, made to the Indigenous affairs portfolio in the 2014 federal budget.”
The report said the nation was “now in a situation where the closing the gap targets will measure nothing but the collective failure of Australian governments to work together and to stay the course”.
“National priorities like addressing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health inequality have not gone away, are getting worse, and more than ever require a national response,” it said.
The Closing The Gap policy was created under the Rudd government to reduce inequalities in health, education and employment.
The Turnbull government is looking at making changes to the policy after last year’s annual report, which indicated six of seven key measures were not on track, including reducing infant mortality rates.
About 60 Indigenous leaders are meeting with government representatives in Canberra on Thursday for high-level talks on how to refresh the policy.