House debates

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Emergency Response Consolidation) Bill 2008

Second Reading

1:16 pm

Photo of Andrew LamingAndrew Laming (Bowman, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

Yes, absolutely. It was an election commitment to half the community and the other half said it makes no difference at all. I am prepared to concede that, but I am not very impressed with this other tack-on legislation around pornography. You can make a wonderful intellectual debate about this, but we are talking about practicalities. In a practical sense, it is just not the debate that we can have the luxury of having. Let us make something very clear: breaking the cycle has not been easy. Levels of governance have waxed and waned. We have CDEP councils trying to keep everyone busy, active and contributing. We still have a two per cent school completion rate. We have benchmark completions in these remote communities that are in single figures. This is an enormous challenge and federal and state governments have to have complementary legislation. You cannot sit over that side, say you support this intervention and not talk to state governments and bring forward that legislation. I know that the minister has been over to Western Australia, but it has to be more than that. It has to come from here or nothing is going to change. As Bill Neidjie said:

This earth, I never damage. I look after. Fire is nothing, just clean up. When you burn, new grass coming up. That means good animal soon, might be goanna, possum, wallaby.

That is the self-reinforcing, positive cycle of community negotiated, positive social norms. That was the additional positive cycle that communities lived by for tens of thousands of years. They have stepped forward, they have embraced the intervention. It was not well negotiated. It came out of a report that was dropped that really did not penetrate state governments. With the greatest of respect, and well away from the funding issues, there was never any galvanising desire to take control of it.

I want to highlight state education departments as the most guilty. These state departments of education apologised and found excuses for kids not going to school: ‘Three unexplained attendances in a semester, impossible to achieve in an Indigenous community. Indigenous people are not the same as the mainstream. They couldn’t possibly achieve that. Literacy, no, they don’t even speak English by the time they get to school. They can’t possibly learn it at school. You’re asking too much.’ The rest of the world can, but they apologised for Indigenous children and said: ‘It’s their third language. You could never expect to teach them literacy and numeracy. Intensive programs are a waste of time.’ They apologised about the privacy of school attendance data. They would not even provide it to the Commonwealth. Queensland is the only one that has done it. Go back to talk to your state colleagues and say, ‘Don’t you think the provision of school attendance data might be useful, so it can be linked in with welfare reform and quarantine?’ You have a battle on your hands. Talk to those ideologues in your state education departments. Queensland is the only one that did it because we have a premier with the courage to crack heads together. After the disastrous stories that came out of Torres Strait last year, she said: ‘Enough. What do we have to do to make it work?’ Today, I fear that you have let down your own colleagues in Queensland. I do not think it is a positive signal to the state governments, whom we were hoping would follow.

In 2007, there was not a sheet of paper between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. I sat over there and saw the then opposition walk in here and take a seat and there were genuine ashen faces that day when the now Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said, ‘There will be bipartisan support.’ I was so impressed on that day. I think Mal Brough is a great man, but, you know what, there was another person sitting over there who said, ‘Unconditionally, we will support it.’ I expect a new government to say there might have to be a few small changes. But my great fear, and I hope that it does not come to pass, is that there was not a sheet of paper between those two men—and there should have been. I would hate to think it was just rhetoric to get elected. If that is the case, we are going to see more roll back. I will be watching CDEP to see it drop back into communities without it first being reformed. You will be dropping it back just to get the money flowing again, unconditionally, so that drunks can come up and kick the council building and break windows and say, ‘Gimme cash now.’ You are going to have 17-year-olds, virtually illiterate with nothing to do, going straight to CDEP as a career of choice. You are going to be using it for cheap labour in councils, hospitals and schools. These guys will not have real jobs with real pay, they will be on a welfare pedestal—as Noel Pearson calls it. I hope that we do not get to the situation where further roll backs start to reflect what we are going to vote on this afternoon. I hope that you look very carefully at this measure and fix up the provisions and support an amended bill. (Time expired)


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