House debates

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Matters of Public Importance

Indigenous Affairs

3:56 pm

Photo of Luke HowarthLuke Howarth (Petrie, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Community Housing, Homelessness and Community Services) Share this | Hansard source

I thank the shadow minister for this MPI into the importance of improving services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. It's a very important issue, which I think all members of this place do, rightly, care about.

I agree with the shadow minister when she said before that it's important to get across the positive stories as well. She mentioned NAIDOC Week and some of the positive stories around Indigenous Australians and what's happening there. I agree with that. When we look at the Closing the Gap targets, as the member for McMahon just talked about—and the shadow minister opposite—I've been here quite a few years now, and every year we come in and hear about them. Sometimes those targets are just not going down. Some have been improving, but some aren't.

The shadow minister spoke about the bulk of Aboriginal people being under 25. That is important as well. We need to have a different mindset in relation to that too, because not all of us are under 25. I myself am not Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, but I have a couple of friends who are. I spoke to one of them recently, my friend Ramone in my electorate. He spoke about the new generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, that they do have different ideas, that they do have different mindsets and that they haven't been affected, for example, by the stolen generations—although, I do note that the shadow minister did say that that does affect younger people. She mentioned that.

He said that younger Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have many friends who are multicultural, so they are perhaps coming from a different perspective from previous generations in this space. He spoke about education as being key and that, generally, he thought that younger Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are treated well and accepted well by their peers.

This issue is very important. When I look across at some of the different policies of the minister, for example, and what he is saying, his key focus is to ensure that there are better health, education and safety outcomes for all Australians, with access to real jobs and greater opportunities. He also spoke about some of the great results in relation to jobs for Indigenous Australians, which is very important. But there are also some half a million people living across 86 per cent of Australia's land mass. Many community populations are less than 200 persons and a significant distance from major roads, bigger populations and service centres. Indigenous Australians make up a third of the population across 2,000 remote communities and towns.

I mention this because regional Australia is very important as well, given that a lot of Indigenous Australians live there. So, when regional representatives speak in this place—a lot of Liberal and National Party members, as well as the member for Lingiari opposite and the member for Kennedy—we should listen to what are some of the needs in those areas, because there's no doubt that that will affect Indigenous Australians.

It's not just government that's going to play a role here, of course. I think that all Australians can make an important difference here. The minister spoke about building the economic base, which is important, and my friend Ramone is doing that. He is involved in business, setting up a small business in furniture manufacturing, and is mentoring young people in my electorate. I want to thank him for that.

The minister also spoke about meeting Indigenous organisations. It is important for us as members and for senators in the other place to get out there and meet Indigenous organisations, but let me go a step further. I actually want us to meet Indigenous people, because, unless you've got friends or people that you know that are Indigenous—Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander—how do you know what it is that is affecting them? I think it's important for us, as members of parliament, to go out of our way to meet Indigenous Australians and to actually befriend them and ask them, 'What is important to you?' When we're looking at closing the gap or boosting jobs in business and so forth, let's talk to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and listen to them. As Ramone said to me today, 'Luke, what is important, if you want to get our mob on side, is that you work with them and not tell them,' and you can't do that unless you've got friends that are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. So I think that's something that we can all do. As the Assistant Minister for Community Housing, Homelessness and CommunityServices, I look forward to working with the minister and seeing how I can help in that space. I'm very committed to that.

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