House debates

Monday, 22 February 2010

Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (2009 Measures) Bill 2009

Second Reading

7:45 pm

Photo of Sharman StoneSharman Stone (Murray, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education and Childcare) Share this | Hansard source

I too rise to speak on the Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (2009 Measures) Bill 2009. As the previous speaker, the member for Blair, said this is something of an omnibus bill with noncontroversial measures. But it does contain references to some very important initiatives. Some of these were put into place by the previous government and have been retained by this government and like all legislation these have evolved as the particular programs bed down and as circumstances change in the community.

One of those programs is the baby bonus. This was introduced under John Howard’s leadership of the coalition government. The baby bonus was an extraordinary change for a lot of parents faced with the cost of a newborn baby. These costs are considerable whether it is buying a lot of new furniture, paying your gynaecologist or obstetrician or putting aside funds for the baby’s education. Even something like buying car restraints these days is a special cost to new parents. The baby bonus is a special support and is of assistance to new parents. At the time too we were most concerned about our declining fertility rates and ageing population in Australia. The Intergenerational report has just shown us that we continue to have a lot of challenges associated with the fact that since the baby boomer generation has moved into retirement age we have not had the same big bubble of population coming through as we did after the Second World War.

The baby bonus it is sometimes suggested ended up being used for a new flat screen television or some other special spend for the household. Let me say that it also brought financial security to a lot of families who otherwise would have struggled to buy the special equipment, clothes and health services for a new baby. I want to continue to commend the application of the baby bonus for the newborn in Australia. Also it is a serious thing when you have multiple births and the baby bonus certainly helps there. I have just come from the other place, the Main Committee, where we have been debating the need for a special day to commemorate babies who have been lost in miscarriage or stillbirths. I think that the business of having babies still remains one of life’s most significant occasions and it should be accompanied with as much joy as possible.

There is another important element in this piece of legislation which refers to income management for our Indigenous communities, in particular in Northern Australia. There can be no surprise that in a lot of those communities where work is in short supply and where education has been most disjointed it is very difficult for families to be financially independent. I have spent a lot of time researching the business of disadvantage in Indigenous communities. There was a time when Aborigines were the backbone of the pastoral industry in Northern Australia. Without Indigenous labour you would not have had the development of the pastoral industry in particular. Then there came a time when a lot of changed policies, like equal pay, were applied to the Indigenous worker. This should have been an absolute panacea and a thing to be much applauded, but it meant in fact a loss of work for Indigenous workers and a huge exodus of traditional families and clans from pastoral stations. The pastoral station would no longer tolerate whole communities living in place still carrying out their traditional ceremony and looking after their traditional country with perhaps just a few employed at particular times or given some rations at particular times if they did essential mustering and cattle work.

The history of Australian employment of Indigenous people needs to be better understood. It needs to be understood in the past in Northern Australia and certainly in Western Australia and Queensland at the times when there were indentured young Aboriginal workers who were treated as slaves. They were indentured at a very young age, six or seven, they were not paid, but they were attached to an employer. If they escaped, say on a pearling vessel or from the pastoral industry or perhaps, if they were girls, from working in laundries or doing other domestic work, they could be brought back to the employer by the police. They were released into the community as young adults often with no education whatsoever and no capacity to sustain themselves with independent work or employment for the rest of their lives.

There is a great deal of history to the current situation in many Indigenous communities where there is no recent record of work and there has been no concentrated effort to develop the skills of Indigenous individuals and communities to make the best of what work is now on offer. When we are looking at things like income management of welfare payments or aged pensions, let that be a type of management that gives back some self-respect and some better independence and less likelihood of exploitation for those in receipt of those incomes.

There is an enormous amount of work that still needs to be done, I have to say, in making sure Indigenous communities have the same access to schooling, from preschool right through to finishing secondary school. We have to make sure that Indigenous Australians have the best there is in terms of educational capital, buildings and equipment, and human capital with the best teachers possible leading on to employment that is not discriminatory and gives people every opportunity to achieve their heart’s desire. This bill has a range of measures which are designed to assist. In particular I have referred to income management in the Northern Territory and the baby bonus. There are other references to people on boards and so on, to family assistance and to child support. It is as we say a noncontroversial bill and I commend it to the House.


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