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Aboriginal leaders question Closing the Gap policy -

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MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Aboriginal leaders are warning the Federal Government's key Indigenous affairs policy, Closing the Gap, is doomed to failure without radical reform.

Yawuru leader Patrick Dodson believes it's time to scrap the policy, and has criticised Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for failing to put his stamp on Aboriginal affairs.

The criticism comes ahead of the release of the latest Prime Minister's Closing the Gap report.

Natasha Robinson reports.

NATASHA ROBINSON: It's a rare foray into the public debate for the man known as the Father of Reconciliation, and Patrick Dodson has delivered a blunt assessment of Closing the Gap.

PATRICK DODSON: We're basically just changing the tablecloth on a table without really realising that the white ants are eating the legs out of the table, and we have to restructure the whole basis of our relationship.

NATASHA ROBINSON: Tomorrow marks the release of the eighth report card on the Government's signature Indigenous affairs policy.

But despite an intensive focus in Canberra, Mr Dodson says Aboriginal people are critically disengaged.

PATRICK DODSON: Closing the gap hasn't got a buy-in from Indigenous communities.

Without Indigenous participation it's going to be doomed to fail and all we'll see is another record of some achievements in some minor areas.

NATASHA ROBINSON: So is it time to scrap Closing the Gap and say we need a new approach?

DODSON: I think it probably is.

NATASHA ROBINSON: Despite goodwill towards the new Prime Minister, Mr Dodson says that Aboriginal people have become concerned that Mr Turnbull has not yet put his stamp on Indigenous affairs.

PATRICK DODSON: Well I think it is a problem. I think it's a problem if the leader of the country is not paying attention to these significant issues.

Unless Mr Turnbull and his Government has some other methodology, they need to put it on the table so that Indigenous participation can take place.

NATASHA ROBINSON: Last year's Closing the Gap report showed good progress in infant mortality and Year 12 attainment.

But narrowing the life expectancy gap had stalled, as had literacy and numeracy progress and employment had gone backwards.

NATASHA ROBINSON: The Close the Gap campaign was originally the brainchild of a group of Aboriginal leaders.

Former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner Tom Calma was a founder of the movement.

TOM CALMA: The gains that we were seeing have in the past six or so months maybe stalled.

We look at suicide prevention - we don't have an implementation of the suicide prevention strategy.

Funding was allocated to it in 2013, like, you know, whilst politicians procrastinate, people still die.

NATASHA ROBINSON: Aboriginal former magistrate Sue Gordon headed the Northern Territory intervention into remote Indigenous communities in 2007 and 08.

She's now president of the board of the Graham Polly Farmer Foundation and believes Closing the Gap doesn't take account of grassroots progress.

SUE GORDON: I think the community get a bit tired of hearing Closing The Gap this or Closing The Gap there, but people in the community generally don't really understand what it's about.

It's really aimed at those people who work in the Aboriginal industry, for want a better word.

NATASHA ROBINSON: When Malcolm Turnbull addresses Parliament tomorrow, there's one word Patrick Dodson is convinced will not be uttered.

PATRICK DODSON: We haven't had a political expression around treaty since Bob Hawke made the announcement back at Barunga back in the 80s I think it was.

So there's been no political leader prepared to come out and say we want to enter into a treaty with the Indigenous people.

But the Indigenous people are now saying we want some kind of settlement, some kind of treaty with you, but where's the political will about that? That doesn't exist at the moment.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Patrick Dodson ending that report from Natasha Robinson.

The Prime Minister's office says Mr Turnbull has consulted with several Indigenous leaders, including Mr Dodson, and would continue to seek a range of views on Indigenous policy.