Monday, 22 February 2021
Private Members' Business
Closing the Gap
In recent weeks, I've had the privilege to spend some time with this year's Senior Australian of the Year, Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann. Miriam-Rose hails from the Nauiyu community, also known as Daly River. It's a couple of hours south of Darwin, at the Top End. She's an amazing woman. When Miriam-Rose was a child, her two-year-old sister Pilawuk White was snatched from her mother's lap—another victim of the stolen generation. Miriam-Rose didn't see her sister for another 14 years. In that time, Pilawuk was sent to a mission on the Tiwi Islands before being taken to Adelaide and adopted by a non-Aboriginal family. Miriam-Rose said:
Through people talking around the community, I learned that Pilawuk was taken for having a white father and was put with a white family to have a better life. Did she?
I guess only Pilawuk herself can answer that. But we do know that taking children from their families and trying to assimilate them was a failed and cruel policy. Taking children away from their mums was not a good thing to do. In many cases, the amputation of those children from their mothers, families, culture and country did immeasurable damage that is still being felt today. The recurring intergenerational trauma has been felt by the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren of the members of the stolen generation. We know that, though decades have passed since that policy ended, we still have so far to go to close the gap. An Apology to the Stolen Generations came late, even in 2008. It was a simple and deeply necessary first step along the long road to healing. But, 13 years later, we haven't got too much further down that road.
It's been 16 years since the Social Justice Report called on Australia to rise up to the challenge of closing that gap. But last year only two of the seven targets were on track. Life expectancy for First Nations Australians still hasn't caught up to that of their non-Indigenous counterparts. Labor support the new approach to closing the gap, and the new targets, but we shouldn't be just renewing targets with deadlines that are even further down the road. There's too much kicking the can down the road. We need to maintain the commitment and do the work today, because, in another 10 years, an entire generation will have passed since we set ourselves this task.
It's been more than three years since the Uluru Statement from the Heart called for a First Nations Voice to Parliament to be enshrined, a treaty to be progressed and truth-telling to occur. Labor is committed to all three of these. First Nations people have told us time and time again, for decades, that, if we want to see real, meaningful, lasting change, then they must be at the centre of decision-making. We won't be able to close the gap and truly right the wrongs of the past until we take that to heart and put it into action, and we could do this before the next election if there was a will from the federal government to do so.
So much has been lost since Prime Minister Kevin Rudd gave that apology on behalf of our nation. Last week, I caught up with him; he visited this place—he visited parliament. It was great to see him, but it was also a reminder of how much we have lost, particularly under those opposite, since he gave that apology.
Next month, there is an opportunity for those opposite and for all parliamentarians to contribute to listening to the voices of First Nations people. Next month, ChangeFest is coming to Canberra, so we will all have that opportunity. ChangeFest has a simple goal: for Australia to be a country where all its communities thrive and where children have a safe home, are healthy and educated, and have a strong sense of identity and belonging. I hope all members here will consider listening to what the participants have to say. It will lead to good steps down that long road towards closing the gap. I really want to acknowledge one of my constituents, Catherine Phillips, for the role she's playing in bringing ChangeFest to the hill, bringing ChangeFest and those voices to Parliament House. I encourage all parliamentarians to participate.