Thursday, 4 July 2019
Matters of Public Importance
I have received a letter from the honourable member for Barton proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The importance of improving services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.
I call upon all those honourable members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
I recognise that we are on Ngunawal country and, as I am sure the vast majority of people in this place know, next week is in fact NAIDOC Week. NAIDOC Week is celebrated in mid-July each year, and this year it will run from 7 to 14 July. The theme for NAIDOC Week this year is 'Voice. Treaty. Truth. Let's work together for a shared future'. NAIDOC Week celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the country. It is an incredibly proud time for everyone and an important part of our national calendar—even more so because much of the discussion and debate around First Nations affairs is focused on injustice and disadvantage. We do need to hear the positive stories as well. NAIDOC celebrations take place in communities right across this country—schools, towns, organisations and governments. Each year at the national level, there is a city of focus. This year it is Canberra, where the National NAIDOC Awards will take place on Saturday night. I look forward to joining the member for Hasluck in presenting some of those awards.
The history of NAIDOC is an amazing one, and it fits rightly into the theme for today's MPI. Of course, there is a long and significant history, and it stretches back more than most Australians would realise. It is a history born out of protest and a desire to celebrate culture and to improve the circumstances of First Nations people. Boycotts of Australia Day by Aboriginal groups have a long history in Australia, going back to before the 1920s, but a lack of acknowledgement and understanding and action by the police meant that these protests did not gain wide acknowledgement.
In an effort to give Aboriginal Australians a voice among the powerful, William Cooper, after whom the electorate of Cooper is named, wrote to King George V. He petitioned the King for special Aboriginal electorates in the Australian parliament way back then. At the time, the government simply dismissed the idea, saying it fell outside its constitutional responsibilities. Of course, Aboriginal people were not recognised as citizens in those times. It was the 1967 referendum that fixed those two issues.
On Australia Day in 1938, protesters marched through the streets of Sydney. This was followed by a congress of over 1,000 people. It was known as the Day of Mourning and was one of the first major civil rights gatherings anywhere in the world. Following this congress, William Cooper and others presented the Prime Minister, Joseph Lyons, with a proposed national policy for Aboriginal people. This was again rejected, because the Constitution still did not recognise Aboriginal people as citizens of Australia. In 1939, William Cooper wrote to the national missionary council to seek their support to make the protests an annual event. They agreed, and the day of mourning was held from 1940 to 1955 on the Sunday before Australia Day and was known as Aborigines Day. In 1955 Aborigines Day was moved to the first Sunday in July and became a celebration of culture, not only a day of protest. From there it grew into NAIDOC Week. It was expanded to include Torres Strait Islanders in 1991. Today, a national NAIDOC committee makes decisions on national celebrations and awards each year.
I want to go to the topic that we are having this MPI about and an amazing book I've just finished reading. I recommend it to every single person in this parliament. It's called Dark Emu and is written by Bruce Pascoe, who has traditional links to the Yuin of the South Coast of New South Wales and also to Tasmania. The book turns on its head the widely held view that Aboriginal people were hunter and gatherer societies. Pascoe uses the actual diaries and documents of the early colonists to advance a truer picture of Aboriginal society and the land. He speaks of permanent dwellings; aquaculture like the Brewarrina fish traps; farming, of daisy yam in this part of the world, for example; and the use of fire to look after country. He speaks of the pure ingenuity of the harvesting of birds and insects like the bogong moths that we are so familiar with around here. He speaks of how the economy worked based on culture, kinship ties and reciprocity. One aspect that really resonated with me because of my Wiradjuri ties was the wide open plains that early settlers described as perfect for sheep and cattle grazing. Those open plains had been made by Aboriginal people and were destroyed very quickly by hard-hoofed animals devastating country, food supply and economy. Pascoe also advances the theory that there was no need for fences, because there was no dispute about who belonged to what parts of the country. That is something we could all learn from today.
In my closing remarks, can I say on the issue of improving services being provided to Aboriginal people, there could be no more urgent action that we could undertake. We heard today in question time the Prime Minister speak about the level of youth suicide. We know what the incarceration rates are. We know what the removal rates of children are. We know what their health outcomes are. We know that we are not meeting the Closing the Gap targets. These are issues that I know people take very seriously, and we will hear shortly from the shadow minister for health on some of those issues in the health space.
The philosophy that needs to go forward, and I'm sure will go forward, is that the day has gone when Aboriginal people are told how to conduct themselves and the way in which organisations are run is determined by others. It is time for proper codesign. It is absolutely time to make sure that what we do in the Aboriginal affairs space is directed and supported, particularly by local Aboriginal communities. The Aboriginal population is a growing population but in reverse to the general population. The bulk of Aboriginal people are young people, under the age of 25. That presents particular policy issues for those of us who are responsible for developing policy. The level of domestic violence and of abuse in Aboriginal communities is a national shame. There are many Aboriginal communities across this country that do not have clean water, where people are living in the shells of cars. That is unimaginable for most people, who can go and turn on a tap and get clean water, who can flush the toilet and who have a comfortable, safe and secure home to sleep in—these are simply not the case for so many of our people. We cannot but think about that and factor it into what we do in this place with policy development. We've got to remind ourselves of the history of the incredible effect of intergenerational trauma from things like the forced removal of Aboriginal children from their families. That may have happened a few generations ago but it happened for a long time, and young Aboriginal boys and girls still feel the trauma of that today. It is carried with them. Those are the issues that we need to understand, absolutely. I know that the member for Hasluck has a personal story along that theme. Those are the things that we need to understand.
If a community is burying two or three young people a week, if a community is in permanent grief and people are related to each other in that small community it is impossible to function normally. These are the really important issues that must be understood by all of us in this place and by those who make policy decisions around Aboriginal people.
I commit myself to a bipartisan approach on this, and we will work collaboratively everywhere possible with the government. I know that my colleagues are supportive of that. But I say this very strongly: bipartisanship cannot be a race to the bottom. Bipartisanship has to be about achieving the highest outcomes. If bipartisanship is a race to the bottom, then it is not worth doing. I have seen in so many instances over my career where bipartisanship ends up being what you can actually agree on, and sometimes that's not very much. I know that that's not what we're talking about in this particular space.
In closing, I commend this MPI to the House and recognise the speakers who will follow me.
I want to acknowledge and join myself with the words that the member for Barton has used in her address on this issue. One of the earlier things that I did with the new agency was to sit with them, given that I was reminded of William Cooper. I'd read in detail the whole NAIDOC history again, just to refresh my memory with the beginnings and origins of the stages through which the leadership at that time took many issues to governments. Bill Ferguson, Sir Douglas Nicholls and many others—Kate Fitzpatrick—were involved.
Their resolve was to look at ways in which services could be better for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people—ways in which governments would engage in conversations that would result in resolution to a better life and better opportunities; the same opportunities as any Australian has. If we think back to the period in which they lived, the challenge was certainly a considerable barrier to the things that they were striving for. The Day of Mourning became a significant line in the sand. The involvement of the churches in writing to every Aboriginal organisation meant that there was a different focus in this nation on addressing the levels of disparity.
In talking with my agency—and I want to acknowledge the Prime Minister's establishment of it as an independent body under the umbrella of the Prime Minister and where the CEO, Ray Griggs, reports to me—one of the things I did say was that I want to have co-design. I want us to think about the way in which we focus on the client: in other words, understand the community and the need; deal with the issues where you start to have a better understanding of what the challenges are.
The second was to clarify; find out what is really going on and how to address it. Thirdly, it was to create and build the best possible joint solution—not a solution that is one-sided but a solution that involves both sides. And the point the member for Barton made is an important one: we don't build to the lowest common denominator. We build to a level which is the aspirations of a community—what the families and the children want and desire in order to progress in their own choices of life to better opportunities and options.
The fourth thing I said was about change: make it happen. Too often with services we have the discussions, we go away, and change is expected to occur, but it doesn't always. That's why at times when I look back to 1972, at some of the investments, the level of change has not been as I thought it would be. The area of Aboriginal health has been a challenge for a long, long time. The levels of disparity in many of the illnesses and diseases, both chronic and those which are caused by other factors, continue to prevail at the levels they are.
The fifth step is to confirm and make sure that what you've agreed to starts to happen—make sure that the agreement is a two-way process of occurring. Next, continue: make the change stick. Often we will go into a community, have the dealings and reach the agreement, but we don't have the continuity. We don't continue with the reforms we need to ensure services are meeting needs and that those needs are at the forefront of an agency's activity.
And we need to close—close the engagement but maintain the relationship. That is one of the things that is absolutely critical in reforms in Aboriginal matters across all elements: educational pathways, having our kids attend the schooling system, addressing the complex health issues, looking at the incarceration rates that are high in my own home state, examining economic opportunities, and putting into place procurement processes that encourage the capacity of Aboriginal businesses to become competitive and to flourish. What I find with those organisations is that they employ local Indigenous Australians to be part of their workforce. So we build the economic base. We have to also learn to deal with unintended consequences and bring people back to the point of what it is that we are trying to provide the service for.
I think the challenge that all of us have—I would ask every member in this chamber to go out into your electorates and meet with Aboriginal organisations and get to understand what the challenges are, so that when the member for Barton and I work together on issues we know what you're bringing back to us. Knowing the level of detail collectively within this chamber will alter the way in which services are provided, because it's not just a minister and a shadow minister that make a difference in the challenges. It's every 151 of us, because in your own seats you'll know the way in which organisations function and operate. If we establish that, then we can make a difference. There are the nuances. We did it and we've done it on a number of issues. We see it in question time when colleagues stand up and ask questions about: 'In my electorate, there are challenges for this family or this individual or this organisation.' What I want us to do is to build on that intent of goodwill and that opportunity to do the same for Indigenous services, organisations and communities.
There are members in this House on both sides who I engage with—and I'm sure the member for Barton does equally—who come and talk to us about something that has to be remedied. We talk about the solution, then I ask them to go back and spend time talking to the organisation, to obtain their perspective on what needs to be a solution that governments can support. We can throw money, but it's not always money; it's about how we utilise not just the Aboriginal affairs bucket. If I drew a circle, the amount that goes into Aboriginal affairs would be like the sweep hand on the clock. The bulk of resources are in mainstream services. How do we do our best to ensure that we have a combination that optimises every opportunity within Commonwealth, state and territory, and local government resources to assist communities to move to that position that they desire?
The challenges that we also have mean we have to provide information about choice. When we had the syphilis outbreaks in the Top End of Australia, it took the community controlled health sector, state and territory systems and GPs working collaboratively to have an impact—not a reliance on just one component. Services are critical, but it's the way in which we work in order to deliver those services.
With NAIDOC Week coming up, I would invite everybody in this chamber to take some time out and attend some of the events. Meet not just the leaders but those who have stalls and are part of the community—those who are there showing with pride what it means to them to be Indigenous Australians and what their organisations are doing to make a difference. Share the food, share the culture, share the dance, look at the art and hear the stories, because it's through our mutual understanding of each other that this nation will become a greater nation in the way in which we move forward. If we don't, then this is a discussion that will be happening in 20 years time.
The changes began in 1972. Subsequent prime ministers have built on the opportunities, but we've still not closed many of the gaps. As we heard from both our leaders, the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister, there is a genuine commitment to work towards making a substantial difference not only in the provision of services but, more importantly, in the outcomes that we seek collectively for Indigenous Australians, regardless of their geographic location. I thank the member for Barton for her MPI. I look forward to working with her in a bilateral way to influence our colleagues to make a difference for the future.
Once a year in this place we gather to hear from the Prime Minister of the day about the progress or, more often, the lack of progress in meeting the targets set to close the gap of Indigenous disadvantage in our country. I think all of us, collectively and individually, genuinely lament, express our disappointment and reflect. And then, all too quickly, we move on. We move on to the issues of the day and criticise each other. We move on to the story of the hour. It's far too little. The plight of our First Australians is not the first-order issue in our Australian political debate. What is happening for those in the centre of our country is not at the centre of our political debate, and we must collectively do better.
We've set those targets to close the gap and, in too many instances, we are not meeting them. In some instances it's getting worse, particularly in relation to health. We have set the target of closing the gap for Indigenous life expectancy by 2030, but we are not making it. What small gains are being made in Indigenous life expectancy are being outpaced by gains for non-Indigenous Australians, and in some instances, particularly in relation to Indigenous females, we're going backwards. There was a 32 per cent increase in the Indigenous suicide rate between 1998 and 2015. Australians of Indigenous heritage are four times more likely to have diabetes or pre-diabetes and twice as likely to die from respiratory disease. Cancer rates have increased by 21 per cent, whereas cancer rates for those of non-Indigenous background have been decreasing.
As we speak, there is an HTLV-1 crisis, particularly in the centre of Australia. This week there's been news that we have had the best HIV-AIDS figures in 18 years. But even as we've made progress a disease which is a cousin of HIV-AIDS, HTLV-1, is at epidemic proportions, affecting almost half of some remote communities. We are making no progress. In fact, as a country—this is not a partisan remark—we are, frankly, not even trying. We have a huge task ahead of us. In real terms, health expenditure on Indigenous Australians—excluding that on hospitals—is falling when it should be increasing. Again, I say this not as a partisan remark but as a reminder to the country that we have a huge task ahead of us.
The issues are complicated; nobody would suggest that they're not. We can't simply increase health funding and fix the problem—not unless we fix housing, fix education and fix the spirit of no hope in many communities. I've read reports which show that communities of the First Peoples of Canada that have empowerment and have hope for the future have much lower suicide rates than other communities. I'm sure the lessons are the same here in Australia.
These are complicated issues which we all must focus on and think more about. Last week I was with the member for Lingiari, not only in Alice Springs but in Kintore on the border of Western Australia and the Northern Territory, 500 kilometres west of Alice Springs—as we've previously been to Docker River and Papunya. These circumstances should not exist in Australia in 2019! We cannot let this stand, that people are living in our communities, in our nation in 2019, in these circumstances.
When we go to see people on dialysis in Alice Springs and in Kintore and in Docker River, these are our brothers and sisters in Australia in 2019. These are not statistics. As worrying and concerning and as deeply disturbing as these statistics are, these are human beings and our fellow Australians in Australia in 2019. This cannot stand.
It is NAIDOC Week coming up. Our friend the member for Barton has reminded us of the themes of NAIDOC Week. I say that it is incumbent on all of us to be a voice for Indigenous Australians in this House—those who are Indigenous and those who are non-Indigenous. But we should also have a voice directly to us from our First Peoples. We should get this done. This is not a third chamber of parliament; it is only right and just that our First Nations have a voice to us to express their views about what is happening in their communities, and this must be done. And until that is done I fear that we'll continue to lament once a year, we'll continue to express disappointment, we'll continue to reflect and we'll continue to tut-tut and say, 'We must do better.' And then, by the afternoon we'll have moved on.
That Indigenous voice to us to remind us of our responsibilities and of our obligations, of our moral responsibilities as a parliament, is necessary. I commend the member for Barton for this matter of public importance.
I thank the shadow minister for this MPI into the importance of improving services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. It's a very important issue, which I think all members of this place do, rightly, care about.
I agree with the shadow minister when she said before that it's important to get across the positive stories as well. She mentioned NAIDOC Week and some of the positive stories around Indigenous Australians and what's happening there. I agree with that. When we look at the Closing the Gap targets, as the member for McMahon just talked about—and the shadow minister opposite—I've been here quite a few years now, and every year we come in and hear about them. Sometimes those targets are just not going down. Some have been improving, but some aren't.
The shadow minister spoke about the bulk of Aboriginal people being under 25. That is important as well. We need to have a different mindset in relation to that too, because not all of us are under 25. I myself am not Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, but I have a couple of friends who are. I spoke to one of them recently, my friend Ramone in my electorate. He spoke about the new generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, that they do have different ideas, that they do have different mindsets and that they haven't been affected, for example, by the stolen generations—although, I do note that the shadow minister did say that that does affect younger people. She mentioned that.
He said that younger Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have many friends who are multicultural, so they are perhaps coming from a different perspective from previous generations in this space. He spoke about education as being key and that, generally, he thought that younger Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are treated well and accepted well by their peers.
This issue is very important. When I look across at some of the different policies of the minister, for example, and what he is saying, his key focus is to ensure that there are better health, education and safety outcomes for all Australians, with access to real jobs and greater opportunities. He also spoke about some of the great results in relation to jobs for Indigenous Australians, which is very important. But there are also some half a million people living across 86 per cent of Australia's land mass. Many community populations are less than 200 persons and a significant distance from major roads, bigger populations and service centres. Indigenous Australians make up a third of the population across 2,000 remote communities and towns.
I mention this because regional Australia is very important as well, given that a lot of Indigenous Australians live there. So, when regional representatives speak in this place—a lot of Liberal and National Party members, as well as the member for Lingiari opposite and the member for Kennedy—we should listen to what are some of the needs in those areas, because there's no doubt that that will affect Indigenous Australians.
It's not just government that's going to play a role here, of course. I think that all Australians can make an important difference here. The minister spoke about building the economic base, which is important, and my friend Ramone is doing that. He is involved in business, setting up a small business in furniture manufacturing, and is mentoring young people in my electorate. I want to thank him for that.
The minister also spoke about meeting Indigenous organisations. It is important for us as members and for senators in the other place to get out there and meet Indigenous organisations, but let me go a step further. I actually want us to meet Indigenous people, because, unless you've got friends or people that you know that are Indigenous—Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander—how do you know what it is that is affecting them? I think it's important for us, as members of parliament, to go out of our way to meet Indigenous Australians and to actually befriend them and ask them, 'What is important to you?' When we're looking at closing the gap or boosting jobs in business and so forth, let's talk to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and listen to them. As Ramone said to me today, 'Luke, what is important, if you want to get our mob on side, is that you work with them and not tell them,' and you can't do that unless you've got friends that are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. So I think that's something that we can all do. As the Assistant Minister for Community Housing, Homelessness and CommunityServices, I look forward to working with the minister and seeing how I can help in that space. I'm very committed to that.
I acknowledge the MPI which has been brought forward today by the member for Barton and thank her for her contribution, as well as the minister, the member for McMahon and the previous speaker. I was really encouraged by the words of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition here this afternoon, in the course of question time, talking about the acceptance of the need for bipartisanship in progressing the issue of a voice and constitutional recognition. I applaud them for it and I hope we can do it, but we did get that from the last Prime Minister, and we didn't achieve an outcome. So we need to be sincere about what we do and be prepared to make changes—not fixed by ideological positions but prepared to move. We need to be subject to the will and aspirations of Aboriginal people.
I'm not seeking to be partisan here, but I want to just talk about the last federal election, because in my own electorate 42 per cent of the voting population are Aboriginal people. Across the 21 mobile teams that worked across the desert in the Northern Territory, from the 14 that went to Aboriginal communities, I got over 75 per cent of the vote in most and over 90 per cent in four. That was a result of going and talking to people prior to the election about what their needs and aspirations were. I want to just make it very clear I hear their voice, and their voice tells me what I'm telling you, and that is that they are sick and tired of being told what to do by us and that the remnants of the intervention so badly put by John Howard and Mal Brough are still hurting Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory, sadly. We need to say that's all gone, and we need to make sure every aspect of it is taken away. Then we need to sit down and say, 'Well, what are the key issues which you're engaged with and which are important to you?'
What they told me was that at the top of the agenda was CDP. What they are after is a new program which looks a lot like the old CDEP, which I know the minister is au fait with. We had resistance from the former minister, who told us on the one hand that he was prepared to move but on the other that he was unable to move. We can't be doing this. If we're sincere in getting the outcomes we need and we are prepared to listen to Aboriginal people, we need to listen properly. And if we are listening properly, we will come up with outcomes which they accept as being determined by them.
They also talked about the need for regional representation. We talked about what the old ATSIC looked like and regional councils and regional assemblies and how their voice might be properly articulated at a community and regional level. They made it clear that was their aspiration. Sadly, and this is just a comment, in many places people hadn't even heard of the Statement from the Heart. The aspirations of people who live in very rural communities are sometimes not heard. The thing we need to understand is we need to go talk to them wherever they might be—in the remotest corners of this country. It's all right to have the voices of Sydney and Melbourne, because they can get a hold of the media. That's fine. There's no doubt they have a very legitimate cause to prosecute. But we need to make sure that the interests we're representing are the interests of all First Nations people, not just some. That requires us to do the listening that is properly done.
I think the minister is up to it and I know he knows that our side of this place—certainly the shadow minister, myself and Senator Dodson, who have worked with him in the past—is very sincere about our desire to get outcomes with you and your government. We don't seek to make political points here. There is no political advantage to me in working with you, but I want to work with you, because it's important to get the outcomes this nation needs. If we are to improve services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this country, that's the only way it will be achieved. But it does mean the government making very hard decisions and telling those recalcitrant agencies within the government that they have to be brought to book and they have to do their job and make sure they are accountable for the services they are providing. They should do it through you as their coordinating minister.
It gives me great pleasure to stand and speak on this MPI today. Grey is an electorate that has an Indigenous population of around 7.2 per cent. I make the point that all the remote Indigenous communities in South Australia lie within the electorate of Grey, so I'm very familiar with many of the issues and challenges that they face and I regularly visit those communities to talk and sit down and listen to what they have to say. I'm very pleased to report that my relationship with them is very good and that I believe we have made some great ground over time.
The Close the gap report delivered earlier this year, 2019, tells us that there is more to be done, but we are making progress. But that 'more to be done' now falls on the shoulders of Australia's first Indigenous Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt. It was very good to hear the minister's comments—the first comments in this chamber in that position—at the beginning of this debate. I thank the minister for those comments. I believe we have somebody who is dedicated and is highly accomplished in former portfolios but who brings great passion to bringing about realistic change in this area. I acknowledge the shadow minister's commitment in this area as well.
That Close the gap report told us that we were making some particularly good ground in the early years and in year 12 completion. I can point you to the places where that's happening. Certainly education is a real issue, a real challenge in these remote communities. I would say the school attendance program is successful, but it's patchy. It always seems to rely on the quality of the individual actually leading the program and the quality and the acceptance of the school principal who is associated in those particular places. If you don't have a good tie-up and everybody pushing in the same direction, the program will deliver far less. When you hit the spot, it really works. I think we have to keep working at that. A problem of course is that when you have a particularly talented leader so many other organisations in the community say, 'We want that one,' and they get pirated off and you have to start again. We need to make a real commitment to this program to make sure that it is working.
I'm particularly pleased with the number of Indigenous owned and controlled organisations that have been awarded contracts to deliver services to local communities under the Indigenous Procurement Policy. I'm seeing a difference in my own communities. I talk here about Ceduna, as I've done many times in this chamber, because it's the home of the cashless welfare card. We have worked with the community there. Indigenous organisations have confidently risen to the challenge and increasingly taken on more and more work that previously the government or other providers used to do for them. The Ceduna Aboriginal Corporation is the new provider of CDP. They are very excited about that and are gearing themselves up to get their teeth into it. They believe they can do great things for their people. In fact, all 13 of the new CDP providers that commenced work four days ago are Indigenous controlled or owned. I think that's a great outcome. It's a great tick for the government policy. Right across the board we're seeing more organisations taking on more government contracts and delivering good results. They're actually delivering the work on time and on budget. It's exactly what we need.
The next step, of course, is for the individuals who work within these organisations to step outside them, take those skills into the broader workforce and make room for new people to come in and take on the roles that they previously occupied. We will have to keep applying ourselves to make sure that they have the confidence to step outside that space.
I have been the member for Grey now for 11½ years. I can certainly say that there's plenty of work to be done. Sometimes I put my head in my hands almost in despair because I see the things that others have referred to. On the other hand, I know that we are in a better space now than we've been before—
I am delighted to follow my colleagues in this matter of public importance discussion today on services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. I thank the for his contribution earlier and willingness to work in a bipartisan manner to focus on outcomes. I take heed of what both the member for Barton and the member for Lingiari said before. A bipartisan approach must be reaching for the stars. We have to be setting a benchmark of excellence and, in fact, leading the world. We need to have confidence that that is a shared position of this parliament. The First Nations people of our country deserve nothing less and expect nothing less from this parliament.
There are plenty of signs of a willingness to have a kind of renewed relationship with the parliament. Indeed, no sign is more prominent than the Uluru Statement from the Heart. That had a very rocky re-entry into this parliament. Let's not forget the complete dismissal last September of any notion that there could be a voice to parliament. Indeed, the new Prime Minister, a month after the former Prime Minister dismissed it, went on to say that he too believed that there could be no countenance of a voice to parliament—with the very mischievous interpretation that this somehow represented a third chamber. Of course, there has been a resounding and emphatic rejection of that interpretation by First Nations people.
I'm glad to see that there has been some movement on the government bench to now give some shape to what a voice might look like. There is an allocation in the budget of $7.3 million to try to progress this. I would like to see that that is done. I take on board the minister's comments earlier on about the new agency and a genuine desire for co-design of programs. This is an ideal opportunity for that $7.3 million to be spent around the design of what this process is going to look like and, indeed, to have a genuine partnership.
The theme for this year's NAIDOC Week is 'Voice, Treaty, Truth'. They were the three fundamental elements of reform that were spelled out in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. So this NAIDOC Week is indeed honouring the intent of that statement from Uluru. It is the job of this parliament now to honour that statement. However that voice gets shaped and interpreted, I think we should never lose sight of the fact that the Indigenous voice in Australia is at least 65,000 years old. This is not a new idea. This is not a new voice in our nation.
Likewise, the concept of a treaty has a very, very long history—since colonisation, in fact. In my own home town of Newcastle, I remember 30 years ago convening, in my then role in the Newcastle Aboriginal support group, a public meeting and discussion around treaties and what that would look like in Australia. I am definitely not wedded to the idea that there be one treaty that serves the entire nation. There may be multiple. I do not wish to prejudge what that is going to look like. But there is nothing surer than that one day this nation will have to answer to that history, own that history and, indeed, go back to looking at treaty-making. There will be the formation of a treaty at some point in Australia's history. I really hope that I'm in a parliament that helps to do that.
Likewise, there can be no treaty without truth, without owning our history and without having a shared understanding and agreement on the unfinished business in this country. These are all matters that are deeply meaningful to First Nations people, regardless of whether they live in a highly urban environment like Newcastle or in a remote community like Wadeye. These are matters that go deep in our national identity and the relationship we have with First Nations people.
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.
I thank the shadow minister for Indigenous Australians for raising this matter of public importance, because it is very important. I acknowledge the Minister for Indigenous Australians, who is with us. I can't think of anything more important for our first MPI than the shadow minister speaking on the importance of improving services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. We've been talking about Bob Hawke a lot this week, and that's what he did when this place opened. He made Indigenous issues the first order of business. I read that motion to the parliament yesterday as part of the condolence. That's how important he saw it as being, that's how important we see it as being and that's how important we hope that you, Minister, and your colleagues see it as being as well. We think it's great that you're the first Indigenous cabinet minister and the first Indigenous minister for Indigenous affairs. We think that's great. We hope that you can encourage those that sit together with you on the front bench to start taking this stuff seriously.
We have targets. You've been in government for six years, and, of seven of those targets, just two are on track. I've seen the minister up in Darwin consulting, and I applaud that, but what we need is for that information that you already have to quickly transfer into real outcomes on the ground, not just in the Northern Territory but around our whole nation. The status quo is not good enough. Whilst my colleague the member for Lingiari and others cautiously hope that this bipartisanship becomes a reality, he certainly has seen, over the decades, that unfortunately—as the member for McMahon, the shadow minister for health, said—too quickly it is just forgotten and we just move on with other things. Instead of seeing the investment that we need—and I must say that suicide prevention is important; I congratulate the Prime Minister for making that a priority, but that's the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff—what we need is services for Indigenous Australians and for all Australians in the Territory. But all we have seen from the coalition, it must be said, are cuts, chaos and neglect when it comes to the service provision for Indigenous Australians in this country. When they cut the payments, cut health services and cut funding for education, guess who suffers. It is the people who are in some cases in the Northern Territory living in Fourth World conditions in our First World nation. It's not good enough.
One case in point is hospital funding in the Northern Territory. Those opposite cut $16 million from Northern Territory hospitals. At the election we said we would reverse that, because we know how disastrous that is for health outcomes not just for Aboriginal Territorians but for all Territorians.
The head of the Northern Territory branch of the AMA, Dr Robert Parker, has recently written a letter to the Minister for Indigenous Australians and the Minister for Health, and I will be seeking to table that letter at the end of my contributions. In his letter, Dr Parker made the Minister for Health and the Minister for Indigenous Australians aware that the NT has almost two to three times the rate of hospital separations compared to the rest of Australia, and the government are cutting the budgets for NT hospitals by $16 million. The Indigenous and remote rural issues add significantly to the hospital separation.
The unique factors in the Northern Territory place additional economic burdens on the NT. The cost of providing health services in the NT is far in excess of anywhere else in the major cities and anywhere outside rural Australia. Now, your colleague, the Minister for Health, looked at the letter, waited a month, didn't propose any solutions or give any constructive insights and instead called for the Territory government to be sacked. The government has cut funding to hospitals, so the he calls for the Chief Minister to be sacked. It's pathetic. Enough of the cheap shots from the federal government. You both need to act. If minister Hunt doesn't understand what's required in the Territory, then I suggest that the Minister for Indigenous Australians brings him up to the Territory to have a look for himself.
I now seek leave to table the letter.
Leave not granted.
I've been refused.
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.