Thursday, 4 July 2019
Matters of Public Importance
I would like to thank the member for Barton for moving this MPI and to congratulate her on her appointment as the shadow minister in this area. I also acknowledge the minister in this space, Minister Wyatt, who is the first Indigenous Minister for Indigenous Affairs and is doing a wonderful job. This is a very important matter of public importance. Both the minister and the shadow minister raised the extraordinary figure of William Cooper. William Cooper was a great petitioner, a great activist, a great Yorta Yorta man and a great leader of people. When he presented his petition to King George in the 1930s it is to be remembered that the number of Aboriginal people in Australia had declined so much that Aboriginal leaders at that time were worried about the very survival of their people. As the member for Barton said, one of the good things today is that, as we know, the total number of Aboriginal people is actually growing in our country, whereas, in William Cooper's day, the future looked incredibly bleak.
As my friend the member for Macarthur will know, the other thing that was extraordinary about William Cooper was that in 1938 he was one of the few people, despite the challenges of his own people, who decided to petition the German embassy against the discrimination and violent action against Jews in Germany on Kristallnacht. That was an extraordinary act from an extraordinary leader. I think we should all celebrate William Cooper for not only his leadership of his own people but his leadership of our country.
Australia is a wonderful place to live. This is probably the greatest country in the world. We are a country of great fortune, great riches and great success. But, unfortunately, not everyone shares in that success, and many of the social and economic indicators are that Indigenous people probably miss out on that success more than almost any other group of people. You only needed to hear the passion that the Prime Minister displayed today in his answer in relation to Indigenous suicide to see the major challenge that we as a country face in dealing with this. I am delighted to see him and the Minister for Indigenous Australians make this a great priority, with the $34.1 million injection into Indigenous suicide prevention, particularly supporting leadership locally among Indigenous people to deal with these issues. After the election, I took some time and read the dreadful report into those suicides in the Kimberley. That coroner's report is a most arresting document, not just because of the individual cases but because the coroner looks at some of the systemic factors that cause Indigenous suicide, particularly in that community. I'm pleased to see that $19.6 million is going to deal with the issues of Indigenous suicide in the Kimberley.
Last year I had the great privilege of co-chairing, with Senator Dodson, the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, from which the recommendation of co-design came. I want to thank and acknowledge the minister, the Prime Minister and the government for adopting all of the recommendations of that report. It was a very important report. Much has been made of the issue of co-design today. I want to explain why we chose to recommend a process of co-design. The first reason is that, as I think the member for Lingiari said, people in Indigenous communities are sick of people here in Canberra telling them that they know best for their communities. If a process of bottom-up consultation is going to work, it has to be designed with the people for whom the service is going to be provided in mind so that it works for them.
Secondly, we simply did not have time to adequately go round and do that task in the nine months that we had to complete our report. Thirdly, if this is going to change lives, it has to be culturally appropriate. Something that might work in my electorate in northern Sydney will be very different to something that works in Kununurra or in remote communities in the Torres Strait or in North Queensland.
The final reason is that a process of co-design evidences a partnership. Co-design isn't Indigenous people designing something by themselves. It's not us in Canberra telling them what to do. It is a design process that involves government and Indigenous communities in the community where the challenges are faced. It gives me great encouragement to see the way in which the notion of this partnership is at the heart of everything that the minister has said he wants to achieve and wants to do in this space in his approach to Indigenous affairs, whether it is in relation to improving health and education outcomes, addressing employment or improving the lives of Indigenous people. It is only through partnership that we can achieve the change that all Australians seek.