House debates

Monday, 15 June 2020


Indigenous Australians

7:50 pm

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Financial Services) Share this | | Hansard source

These are the words of Luke Carroll, Australian actor and First Nations leader in the community that I represent: 'We are not asking people to feel sorry for us. We are asking people to understand our history and our culture.' The Australian government is not listening to and understanding our First Australians.

Last week, the Prime Minister stated 'there was no slavery in Australia'. This statement is patently wrong. It's not the truth. It denies the facts about the historical treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in their own country—in their home. This statement also explains the anger and resentment that our First Australians have for the lack of understanding from much of the Australian population regarding the historic discrimination, abuse and mistreatment that has been perpetrated on Aboriginal Australians and that continues to this day. First Nations Australians deserve better. If the Prime Minister of Australia can make such an error about Australian history then what hope is there for First Nations Australians that this mistaken view of history will be corrected, that the prejudices that have dogged their past will change and that injustice will end?

The Prime Minister has subsequently apologised for his comments, and I don't believe that he was acting out of malice or trying to be patronising. He made those comments out of ignorance. It was ignorance that used to be entrenched in our nation's education system; ignorance and a lack of understanding about the truth of Australian history and the treatment of First Nations people—an ignorance that is unfortunately reflected in many Australians through a lack of knowledge about the true history of our nation. It was an unwillingness to sit down with and communicate with First Nations people, to listen their stories, to study their culture and history and to hear their point of view. It was ignorance reflected in an unwillingness to listen to First Nations leaders about their views on fixing the problems of government interaction with First Nations people. He was reflecting an entrenched lack of understanding about the truth of Australian history.

The Australian government is not listening to our First Nations people. The evidence of this is in the continued lack of action by this government on the Uluru Statement from the Heart and constitutional recognition for First Australians people. Unfortunately, Australia has a shameful record of improving the living standards of our First Australians. Our First Nations Australians have a life expectancy of almost 10 years below that of non-Indigenous Australians. Rates of infant mortality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are much worse than for the rest of the population. In many health indicators, such as rates of diabetes, heart disease and preventable blindness, our First Australians suffer at rates above the general population. Aboriginal men remain the most incarcerated people in the world. Couple all of this with the shockingly high rates of youth suicide in Indigenous communities, the lack of employment, high rates of children living in out-of-home care and the continued discrimination faced by Aboriginal people, and you see why our First Australians are fed up with the lack of understanding and action from the government to fix the disadvantage.

In an act of hope, leaders of First Nations people came together in 2017 to say that enough is enough. They came together to demand respect and request that government listen to their plight, work with them, act and ensure that their voice is heard in decision-making affecting them. For the first time in decades, they came together at Uluru to speak as one voice. We owe it to them to listen. Their ask—constitutional reforms to empower First Nations people to take their rightful place in their country—is achievable. They call for the establishment of a First Nations voice to parliament that is enshrined in the Constitution. They seek truth telling so that all Australians understand our nation's history, a makarrata commission to supervise the process of agreement making between government and First Nations, and truth telling of our history.

These requests are not unreasonable and they are not unachievable. They represent the pleas of First Nations people for the Australian government to listen to them and to work with them to achieve lasting reconciliation and partnership to work to fix many of the social problems and disadvantage that Aboriginal Australians face every day. We owe it to them to listen. We owe it to them to take action. I call on the government to work with the Labor Party on delivering the Uluru Statement from the Heart. As Barbara Simms-Keeley said, 'Aboriginal lives matter. They mattered from day one.'