Wednesday, 12 February 2020
Questions without Notice
Closing the Gap
My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer to the fact that five out of the seven Closing the Gap targets have not been met or are not on track. Will one of the 14 new targets set in April be a justice target?
I thank the member for her question and I thank her for her constructive support of the process we are now going through in the establishment of new Closing the Gap targets. As the member would be aware, it is a process that is a cooperative process. It's a process that involves state governments and the Commonwealth government but, more importantly, it is a process which is being driven by the Coalition of Peaks group, led by Pat Turner. So it would be presumptive of me as Prime Minister, as a part of this process, to be seeking to prejudice that process and not listen to what the priorities are to be set by Indigenous Australians—and listening is exactly what we'll be doing.
As I said today in my address on closing the gap, we want to see the gap from the eyes of Indigenous Australians. I want the gaps to be defined by Indigenous Australians. So, to that end, there will be a discussion of these matters in March this year. This is a process that we have been working to for over a year now. I'll be looking to the Coalition of Peaks and Pat Turner, who has demonstrated amazing leadership in bringing all of those groups together. Most recently we met in the cabinet room, as I referred to earlier today. It was a tremendous meeting, and we are making great progress. So I look forward to the shared targets, with the right data that can inform us as to how we're tracking against those targets, where the responsibilities for meeting those targets are clearly articulated. The suggestion that this Commonwealth parliament alone can act to address all these targets is a misplaced notion, because state governments, equally, are part of this process. That's not me saying it; it is Indigenous Australians themselves, through the Coalition of Peaks. That's why this process is a partnership. I intend to respect the partnership with Indigenous Australians.
My question is to the Minister for Indigenous Australians. Will the minister inform the House how the Morrison government is working in genuine partnership with Indigenous Australians and state and territory governments to progress closing the gap?
I want to thank the member for Berowra for your continued and ongoing support and interest in these areas. The peak organisations came to the Prime Minister and met with him about the way in which we were doing business as Australian governments. I asked if it was possible for Aboriginal people to sit at the table to shape the direction for closing the gap into the future. The Prime Minister undertook that process and met with COAG, and had the first ministers agree to a process in which there would be a tripartite approach to developing the targets—that the Coalition of Peaks would work closely with the Aboriginal community and with state and territory governments and with the Commonwealth. They had their first meeting when Senator Nigel Scullion was the minister responsible. I had the privilege of sitting at the table at the first joint council meeting, in Adelaide. In that meeting, we took forward what was agreed to about the way in which we would shape the future that would leave a legacy of Indigenous involvement in decision-making. The other element to that was that ministers from each state and territory would sit there and be part of those discussions. It was historic in the sense that both Pat Turner and I as two Indigenous Australians sat there co-chairing a COAG council—unprecedented.
What was done recently was that the Prime Minister invited the peaks into the cabinet room. We talked about what was evolving out of their consultations on the targets. They are doing broad consultation right across the nation. They will come back to us with the final set. They are working with my agency, the National Indigenous Australians Agency, with Professor Ian Anderson. They are having genuine discussions around how we shape the future. In doing that, I reflected on other elements of the work that we're doing. I've asked the agency now to always engage with our people on all initiatives that we do. They are not to tell communities what they need. They are to sit, identify the challenge and work on solutions.
I also want to ask all of us in this chamber to do the same—to engage with our electorates and to listen to the voices of people at the local level. Many of us do it well. For some of us, it depends on time. But if we do this consistently, and we bring into it the feedback of the peaks and the Aboriginal community, then let me say that we will have an outcome that is an exemplar for the future, and we can collectively take credit for the way in which we've engaged in a real way.