House debates

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Matters of Public Importance

Indigenous Affairs

3:41 pm

Photo of Ken WyattKen Wyatt (Hasluck, Liberal Party, Minister for Indigenous Australians) Share this | Hansard source

I want to acknowledge and join myself with the words that the member for Barton has used in her address on this issue. One of the earlier things that I did with the new agency was to sit with them, given that I was reminded of William Cooper. I'd read in detail the whole NAIDOC history again, just to refresh my memory with the beginnings and origins of the stages through which the leadership at that time took many issues to governments. Bill Ferguson, Sir Douglas Nicholls and many others—Kate Fitzpatrick—were involved.

Their resolve was to look at ways in which services could be better for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people—ways in which governments would engage in conversations that would result in resolution to a better life and better opportunities; the same opportunities as any Australian has. If we think back to the period in which they lived, the challenge was certainly a considerable barrier to the things that they were striving for. The Day of Mourning became a significant line in the sand. The involvement of the churches in writing to every Aboriginal organisation meant that there was a different focus in this nation on addressing the levels of disparity.

In talking with my agency—and I want to acknowledge the Prime Minister's establishment of it as an independent body under the umbrella of the Prime Minister and where the CEO, Ray Griggs, reports to me—one of the things I did say was that I want to have co-design. I want us to think about the way in which we focus on the client: in other words, understand the community and the need; deal with the issues where you start to have a better understanding of what the challenges are.

The second was to clarify; find out what is really going on and how to address it. Thirdly, it was to create and build the best possible joint solution—not a solution that is one-sided but a solution that involves both sides. And the point the member for Barton made is an important one: we don't build to the lowest common denominator. We build to a level which is the aspirations of a community—what the families and the children want and desire in order to progress in their own choices of life to better opportunities and options.

The fourth thing I said was about change: make it happen. Too often with services we have the discussions, we go away, and change is expected to occur, but it doesn't always. That's why at times when I look back to 1972, at some of the investments, the level of change has not been as I thought it would be. The area of Aboriginal health has been a challenge for a long, long time. The levels of disparity in many of the illnesses and diseases, both chronic and those which are caused by other factors, continue to prevail at the levels they are.

The fifth step is to confirm and make sure that what you've agreed to starts to happen—make sure that the agreement is a two-way process of occurring. Next, continue: make the change stick. Often we will go into a community, have the dealings and reach the agreement, but we don't have the continuity. We don't continue with the reforms we need to ensure services are meeting needs and that those needs are at the forefront of an agency's activity.

And we need to close—close the engagement but maintain the relationship. That is one of the things that is absolutely critical in reforms in Aboriginal matters across all elements: educational pathways, having our kids attend the schooling system, addressing the complex health issues, looking at the incarceration rates that are high in my own home state, examining economic opportunities, and putting into place procurement processes that encourage the capacity of Aboriginal businesses to become competitive and to flourish. What I find with those organisations is that they employ local Indigenous Australians to be part of their workforce. So we build the economic base. We have to also learn to deal with unintended consequences and bring people back to the point of what it is that we are trying to provide the service for.

I think the challenge that all of us have—I would ask every member in this chamber to go out into your electorates and meet with Aboriginal organisations and get to understand what the challenges are, so that when the member for Barton and I work together on issues we know what you're bringing back to us. Knowing the level of detail collectively within this chamber will alter the way in which services are provided, because it's not just a minister and a shadow minister that make a difference in the challenges. It's every 151 of us, because in your own seats you'll know the way in which organisations function and operate. If we establish that, then we can make a difference. There are the nuances. We did it and we've done it on a number of issues. We see it in question time when colleagues stand up and ask questions about: 'In my electorate, there are challenges for this family or this individual or this organisation.' What I want us to do is to build on that intent of goodwill and that opportunity to do the same for Indigenous services, organisations and communities.

There are members in this House on both sides who I engage with—and I'm sure the member for Barton does equally—who come and talk to us about something that has to be remedied. We talk about the solution, then I ask them to go back and spend time talking to the organisation, to obtain their perspective on what needs to be a solution that governments can support. We can throw money, but it's not always money; it's about how we utilise not just the Aboriginal affairs bucket. If I drew a circle, the amount that goes into Aboriginal affairs would be like the sweep hand on the clock. The bulk of resources are in mainstream services. How do we do our best to ensure that we have a combination that optimises every opportunity within Commonwealth, state and territory, and local government resources to assist communities to move to that position that they desire?

The challenges that we also have mean we have to provide information about choice. When we had the syphilis outbreaks in the Top End of Australia, it took the community controlled health sector, state and territory systems and GPs working collaboratively to have an impact—not a reliance on just one component. Services are critical, but it's the way in which we work in order to deliver those services.

With NAIDOC Week coming up, I would invite everybody in this chamber to take some time out and attend some of the events. Meet not just the leaders but those who have stalls and are part of the community—those who are there showing with pride what it means to them to be Indigenous Australians and what their organisations are doing to make a difference. Share the food, share the culture, share the dance, look at the art and hear the stories, because it's through our mutual understanding of each other that this nation will become a greater nation in the way in which we move forward. If we don't, then this is a discussion that will be happening in 20 years time.

The changes began in 1972. Subsequent prime ministers have built on the opportunities, but we've still not closed many of the gaps. As we heard from both our leaders, the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister, there is a genuine commitment to work towards making a substantial difference not only in the provision of services but, more importantly, in the outcomes that we seek collectively for Indigenous Australians, regardless of their geographic location. I thank the member for Barton for her MPI. I look forward to working with her in a bilateral way to influence our colleagues to make a difference for the future.

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