Thursday, 4 July 2019
Matters of Public Importance
I acknowledge the Minister for Indigenous Australians and the shadow minister. Minister, I look forward to working with you, and so does my family, who you've met today. My mother-in-law, Florence Burns, was born on Palm Island. My wife is a proud Aboriginal woman. My one-year-old daughter is an Aboriginal Australian. This MPI is personal and close to my heart.
One of the single biggest contributors to the health and wellbeing of our First Nations people is access to health and other services that many of us take for granted. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people typically die at much younger ages than other Australians and are more likely to experience disability and reduced quality of life due to ill health. The thought that my family—that my daughter—will have a much shorter life span than others across this great nation is something that I reject outright. This is simply not good enough.
The importance of improving services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians is not just a statement; it's something that we must do. The government has invested in a number of programs in my electorate to help improve services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Some of those are the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service; Creative Spirits; the Cowboys School Attendance and Transition Project for Indigenous youth; the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, GBRMPA; the Capacity Building for Indigenous Rangers Strategy; the NRL Cowboys House; remote Indigenous student scholarships; and many more.
Similar to what I said in my maiden speech earlier today, I am aware like everyone else in this place that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians' rights have improved dramatically over the decades, but we must not forget that there is still a lot of work to be done in recognising and valuing our First Nations people and their culture.
Today I called Indigenous Australians in North Queensland and asked what they want, because I believe that for far too long we have told people what they want instead of asking: 'What do you need?' There are significant challenges for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Services in remote communities. I met with the minister for Indigenous affairs this week. No Australian deserves to live without access to clean and safe water, such as Palm Island is experiencing right now. The water quality issue plaguing Palm Island is the result of complete and utter neglect and incompetence by the Queensland state government. It needs to be urgently addressed. I met with the minister and his staff yesterday on this issue. The government remains committed to seeing that the basic services that have been ignored are provided to the people of Palm Island. If this water crisis were in the south-east corner there would be a riot. It wouldn't be acceptable. As I stand before you today, it is not acceptable on Palm Island.
When I visited Palm Island, which is a lovely place, not so long ago, I met with a young, proud Aboriginal man named Telson. Telson has started his own social enterprise, a coffee cart. When I met with Telson I said, 'Why did you do this?' He looked and smiled and said, 'Why not?' I thought that was a pretty normal statement, why not. Palm Island is no different to the mainland. It's no different to anywhere else in Australia, and it shouldn't be treated that way. I committed as a part of my election campaign to hold roundtables throughout my electorate, which includes Palm Island, because I will not be telling the people of Great Palm Island what they want—I will be standing there with open arms asking what they need. I think they will need bipartisan support, from both sides of the House, on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs. I'm very proud to be on the committee, and I will be contributing very positively with the voice of my family and the voice of my electorate.