Monday, 22 February 2021
Private Members' Business
Closing the Gap
It is with great pleasure that I rise to speak in support of the motion moved by Mr Anthony Albanese, the Leader of the Opposition, that acknowledged that, on 13 February, back in 2008, the then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, made a national apology to the stolen generations on behalf of the parliament and the nation. That motion also recognised the importance of closing the gap and reaffirmed Labor's and indeed this parliament's commitment to closing the gap.
I have risen in this House to speak on closing the gap every year since I was elected back in 2013, and I can't begin to tell you how frustrating it is that we've continuously failed to reach the targets that were set for us in this parliament. There were targets covering many areas of life and experience for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia in order to close the gap in life expectancy that existed. Yet we have only ever made inroads on two of those seven targets. Only two of those seven targets were on track: the one around meeting the targets for early childhood education, and that is a very hopeful target to meet because you're obviously reaching young boys and girls, the next generation of First Nations people; and the target around year 12 attainment, which, again, is incredibly important, as we know that education is a life-changing experience for many of us. But none of the other targets—the ones around child mortality; literacy, and the reading, writing and numeracy targets; the school attendance targets; the employment targets; the life expectancy targets—were on track. That of course is an utter failure of this parliament. It is completely contrary to the spirit of the national apology and what was said on that day, where we were making a commitment—and it was not a Labor commitment; it was a parliamentary commitment, on behalf of all of the parties in this place—to make good on closing the gap. But we have utterly failed First Nations people in this regard.
We learnt recently that there is now a new negotiation underway, a brand new deal—a brand new day, perhaps—for closing the gap. Although we haven't really seen an evaluation of what happened beforehand, we understand that we now have refreshed targets and some new deadlines that are yet even further away. We didn't have a report to this parliament in line with the anniversary of the national apology this year, and I am gravely worried that this pushing deadlines down the track and setting new targets not be allowed to be some kind of bureaucratic sleight of hand, letting this parliament off the hook again, for yet another decade. I know there will be many colleagues in this place who would be worried if that were to happen. So we will be watching that very closely. We understand that there may be a report coming in August this year on the refreshed targets and the new deadlines, and we'll all be waiting for that moment.
In 2017, the Uluru Statement from the Heart delivered this nation—and indeed this parliament—a serious challenge. It very clearly articulated the need for a First Nations voice, treaty, and truth-telling process in this nation—a constitutionally enshrined voice to this parliament, not some legislative fix, which we know doesn't have the kind of permanency that First Nations people are seeking. I hope that the parliament will be looking very closely at honouring those commitments, that we ensure that we don't let people down again and that we look to a constitutional enshrined voice and institute a treaty and truth-telling process in Australia.