House debates

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Matters of Public Importance

Indigenous Affairs

4:02 pm

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for External Territories) Share this | Hansard source

I acknowledge the MPI which has been brought forward today by the member for Barton and thank her for her contribution, as well as the minister, the member for McMahon and the previous speaker. I was really encouraged by the words of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition here this afternoon, in the course of question time, talking about the acceptance of the need for bipartisanship in progressing the issue of a voice and constitutional recognition. I applaud them for it and I hope we can do it, but we did get that from the last Prime Minister, and we didn't achieve an outcome. So we need to be sincere about what we do and be prepared to make changes—not fixed by ideological positions but prepared to move. We need to be subject to the will and aspirations of Aboriginal people.

I'm not seeking to be partisan here, but I want to just talk about the last federal election, because in my own electorate 42 per cent of the voting population are Aboriginal people. Across the 21 mobile teams that worked across the desert in the Northern Territory, from the 14 that went to Aboriginal communities, I got over 75 per cent of the vote in most and over 90 per cent in four. That was a result of going and talking to people prior to the election about what their needs and aspirations were. I want to just make it very clear I hear their voice, and their voice tells me what I'm telling you, and that is that they are sick and tired of being told what to do by us and that the remnants of the intervention so badly put by John Howard and Mal Brough are still hurting Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory, sadly. We need to say that's all gone, and we need to make sure every aspect of it is taken away. Then we need to sit down and say, 'Well, what are the key issues which you're engaged with and which are important to you?'

What they told me was that at the top of the agenda was CDP. What they are after is a new program which looks a lot like the old CDEP, which I know the minister is au fait with. We had resistance from the former minister, who told us on the one hand that he was prepared to move but on the other that he was unable to move. We can't be doing this. If we're sincere in getting the outcomes we need and we are prepared to listen to Aboriginal people, we need to listen properly. And if we are listening properly, we will come up with outcomes which they accept as being determined by them.

They also talked about the need for regional representation. We talked about what the old ATSIC looked like and regional councils and regional assemblies and how their voice might be properly articulated at a community and regional level. They made it clear that was their aspiration. Sadly, and this is just a comment, in many places people hadn't even heard of the Statement from the Heart. The aspirations of people who live in very rural communities are sometimes not heard. The thing we need to understand is we need to go talk to them wherever they might be—in the remotest corners of this country. It's all right to have the voices of Sydney and Melbourne, because they can get a hold of the media. That's fine. There's no doubt they have a very legitimate cause to prosecute. But we need to make sure that the interests we're representing are the interests of all First Nations people, not just some. That requires us to do the listening that is properly done.

I think the minister is up to it and I know he knows that our side of this place—certainly the shadow minister, myself and Senator Dodson, who have worked with him in the past—is very sincere about our desire to get outcomes with you and your government. We don't seek to make political points here. There is no political advantage to me in working with you, but I want to work with you, because it's important to get the outcomes this nation needs. If we are to improve services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this country, that's the only way it will be achieved. But it does mean the government making very hard decisions and telling those recalcitrant agencies within the government that they have to be brought to book and they have to do their job and make sure they are accountable for the services they are providing. They should do it through you as their coordinating minister.


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