Wednesday, 9 December 2020
Indigenous Affairs Committee; Report
I mean no disrespect to the previous speaker, but the language they use just makes the people who live there laugh, because that's all we can do. They say, 'We respect the elders,' and they use all this language, but they don't realise that they identify themselves as people who are in the Australian Labor Party—and the ALP, when elected in Queensland, removed all of the market gardens. The only reason that a large proportion of our First Australians are alive in Queensland is because of the Christian missionaries. Terrible things were happening and our First Australians would have been annihilated as a group of people except for the Christian missionaries. They herded us up and put us in protected enclaves, which were called missions. White fellas were not allowed in the missions. We're talking about three million acres—a lot of land—which received 24 inches of rainfall. Most people in Australia would kill to have 24 inches of rainfall. The Christian missionaries were very heroic people, and we pay them a great tribute here today. The people couldn't forage for their food, as their lives would be at risk. So the missions put in market gardens to supply them with fresh fruit and vegetables—and there was nothing like the horrific death rates that are in these communities now.
Each year we have these Closing the Gap targets, but the assessment has now been abolished—because the assessment tells us that it's getting worse. It is so patently obvious that there is a problem with malnutrition. We know that malnutrition causes diseases like diabetes, kidney and heart diseases, and other diseases that I won't go into. We all know that—everyone knows that—but you removed the market gardens. But, worse than that, this place and the Liberal Party here were the major people involved in another act, where, to protect the Great Barrier Reef, people had to get a licence to fish on the Barrier Reef. Most of the Torres Straits sits on the Barrier Reef, and people were told that they now had to get a permit to fish there.
Now, the fishing on Badu Island was bringing in $3.2 million a year in the eighties, so make that about $7 million or $8 million now. Three hundred dinghies were working there. This is dinghy fishing—mostly crayfish but a hell of a lot of other fishing as well. All of the islands had freezers and agents, so you went out in your dinghy, caught your fish and brought it in. They paid you for it and it was put in the freezers.
When Richard Marles headed up a committee—and I don't go on committees, but I made an exception in this case—when we went to show him Mosby's island in the middle of Torres Straits, Joey Mosby, the long-term mayor of this island, kept shouting out: 'They're murdering us, Bobby. They're murdering us.' Now, when I was minister, Joey was not one of my fan club! He was one of the very few that really just wanted to be an Uncle Tom. But since those days Joey had obviously become a real good leader of his area. And he kept screaming out, 'They're murdering us, Bobby,' and Richard Marles leaned over and said: 'What's he talking about? We're not murdering.' Well, you are.
You banned commercial dinghy fishing. We had to get a licence. A commercial fishing licence for a dinghy? There was no mechanism by which a dinghy could get a commercial fishing licence, so commercial fishing stopped. Well, that was our income. You just took our income off us. And it was a very sizable income. One island alone—and there are 15 inhabited islands in the Torres Strait—was pulling in $8 million a year, but you had to protect the Barrier Reef and passed laws, so we died. We had to die to protect your Barrier Reef.
You whitefellas. We were here first and we had access to the Barrier Reef for 40,000 years. What right did you have to take it off us? Badu Island is not on the Reef. As if a couple of hundred little dinghy fishing boats are going to destroy the Barrier Reef. Give me a break. Did you care about us dying of malnutrition? No, you couldn't care less. Every time I've tried to have a press conference here, they start asking me about some ridiculous thing like whether there are blackfella members in parliament. Well, there are about seven of us who claim to have some blackfella in the family tree already here, and I don't know that we're achieving very much, so I don't see what difference putting an extra couple in is going to make.
But let me get back to what we're talking about here. Their income to buy food was taken away from them. Their only source of income was taken away from them. Now it's worse than that. They then proceeded to abolish the backyard fruit and vegetable gardens. Every single home in the Torres Strait had fruit and vegetable gardens. They really haven't become, for lack of a better word, a 'Western' society or a 'mainland' society; they still worked with their own local fruit and vegetable gardens. They exchanged fruit and vegetables. As minister, I probably had about 300 to 400 meals up in the Torres Strait during a six-, seven- or eight-year period—whatever it was. I can never remember having a single piece of food that wasn't locally grown: turtle, dugong, crayfish, of course fish, prawns and also yam, taro, sweet potatoes, mangoes and bananas. Everyone had them in the backyards and, when you had a meal up there, they shared all these things and they were paid for providing them. But you, the government of Australia, abolished their backyard fruit and vegetable gardens. How could you do that? Why would you do that? Marles said, 'Why did we do that?' I said, 'To save Australia from diseases coming in from New Guinea.' Richard Marles said: 'That's ridiculous. The boats have been coming down for 10,000 years.'
Ever since the land bridge vanished, trading and raiding vessels have been coming backwards and forwards. You only have to look at the shape of the faces of the people in Cape York to figure out how much of New Guinea is in Cape York and vice versa. Whatever diseases we're going to get here are already here, and the government's position at the time was hypocritical. I was pleading and screaming for screening of all food items at the Horn Island Airport and at the Jardine ferry. There were only two ways to get into Australia: through the Horn Island Airport and the Jardine ferry. The government did not have quarantine officers at either place, yet they we're starving us to death. They took our gardens away.
Torres Strait Islander are great fighters and, over a period of 13 to 15 years, they got back the right to dinghy fishing. But all the freezers were closed, all the agencies had gone and there was no infrastructure to facilitate that action.
Do I proceed here with no chairman in the saddle? What's going on? Here we go. Mr Deputy Speaker Gillespie, I'd like an extra couple of minutes because you weren't in the chair and I didn't think I could speak.
Ms Claydon interjecting—
What's your problem?