House debates

Wednesday, 11 August 2021

Ministerial Statements

Closing the Gap

6:29 pm

Photo of Luke GoslingLuke Gosling (Solomon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] In continuation, when I first spoke on this issue, I mentioned to the House that First Nations people are still far more likely to be jailed, die by suicide or have their children removed than non-Indigenous Australians. I also paid tribute to the survivors of the stolen generations and welcomed the funding that the federal government have announced for the survivors. I quoted Eileen Cummings from the Northern Territory Stolen Generations Aboriginal Corporation in my electorate and I'll finish my contribution this afternoon by going back to Eileen.

Going to deaths in custody—something that we still need to fix—so many of these Closing the Gap targets are not met. The rates of Indigenous incarceration and deaths in custody are appalling. In the NT, almost 90 per cent of the adult prison population and about 100 per cent of the juvenile detention population are First Nations people. I've been out to the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre, and that is indeed true and stark. The NT government, to its great credit, signed a groundbreaking Aboriginal justice agreement with Aboriginal and community leaders in Darwin this week. That's a first of its kind in the Northern Territory. It's a seven-year agreement to reduce reoffending and imprisonment rates of Aboriginal Territorians, to reduce crime, to engage and support Aboriginal leadership and to improve justice responses and services for Territorians. Federally, Labor also has a plan to turn this sad tide around, building on successful justice reinvestment programs by tackling the root causes of crime and reoffending. The plan includes rehabilitation services, improving family and domestic violence support, offering support for the homeless and developing school retention initiatives. We'll make sure that coronial inquests into deaths in custody are properly resourced and include the voices of family members and First Nations communities. We'll improve funding for legal services and ensure that deaths in custody are nationally reported in real time.

Next, I go directly to what I think is a key aspect of improving the wellbeing of First Nations people, and that's in employment. Labor will close the gap on employment in part by doubling the number of Indigenous rangers by 2030. We've already seen tangible success of the Indigenous rangers program. It provides valuable employment for Indigenous people in regional and rural communities all across the Territory. It also maintains crucial connection to country at the same time as growing local economies, and, of course, it protects and restores the environment.

In my electorate of Solomon we have the Larrakia rangers doing terrific work in our city's coastal reserve, the Casuarina Coastal Reserve, and in other places, protecting nesting turtles and migratory birds. There are also groups all over the Top End caring for country in a variety of ways. For example, the Warddeken rangers are using traditional fire management in Arnhem Land, and the Dhimurru rangers out near Yirrkala are protecting that coastal country in Arnhem Land and fighting sea pollution washing up on our beaches. When it comes to reconciliation, it was Labor, of course, that made the historic apology. And it is Labor which remains the only party to support the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full: voice, treaty and truth.

As I've said, I warmly welcome the funding committed to the NT and ACT members of the stolen generation. I want to acknowledge everyone who's worked so hard on that for so long. I've spoken with Eileen Cummings since that announcement was made, and I think there's a sense of relief that the day's finally come. But, as Eileen reminded all of us, we're not getting any younger. We're between 70 and 90 years old, and, as the stats tell us, it's quite extraordinary for First Nations elders to be still going strong like Eileen at that age. So we can't delay it any longer. There has been talk about next year, but I encourage the government to bring those compensation payments forward as quickly as possible. Eileen said that there are organisations like hers and the Northern Territory Stolen Generations Aboriginal Corporation that are ready and willing. They have the list. Let's work together with The Healing Foundation and get it done. It will be a wonderful sense of healing for those survivors of the stolen generations, and that will be a really good thing for our nation to do when we have so much still to do.

6:35 pm

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Deputy Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

I appreciate this opportunity to make some remarks in relation to the Ministerial Statement on Closing the Gap.

I would argue that Indigenous reconciliation remains the greatest piece of unfinished business in our nation today. Sure we have issues right now with the coronavirus, but we'll work our way through the pandemic in months or perhaps a few years time. But Indigenous disadvantage in this nation has taken us decades to confront—to even admit to it—and it has proved to be an incredibly difficult area of public policy to resolve; we just heard from the previous speaker, the member for Solomon, about some of the challenges we continue to face. We're making progress, but there's so much more work to do.

The Closing the Gap Implementation Plan sets a foundation for the Commonwealth's efforts in achieving the targets in the national agreement over the coming decade, and I want to commend the minister, who I regard as a personal friend, for the work he has done and the work that he is doing in this portfolio. He is making a difference on the ground.

The plan does provide an overview of the Commonwealth's existing actions that will contribute to closing the gap, as well as new investment and future areas of work. It is a whole-of-government plan which has been developed across the Commonwealth and with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partners—in particular, the Coalition of Peaks. It does show that the Commonwealth is serious about delivering on the National Agreement on Closing the Gap. As I said, there is more work to do to achieve the outcomes and targets in the national agreement and to embed the priority reforms across the Commonwealth. The plan is welcomed. It provides a path and a set of actions to achieve these outcomes and it will allow the Commonwealth to review and improve its approach to achieve these goals over time.

But governments can't achieve the change we need in isolation. This has to be a partnership with our communities and it must include every Australian. I will repeat my comment from the outset: this is the greatest piece of unfinished business in our nation today. I believe, and I hope, that Australia is not an inherently racist country, but there's no question that racism exists in our nation. Whether it's through intolerance, through self-interest, through fear or through a lack of respect or understanding, we know racism does exist and we need to be eternally vigilant. We need to call it out and we need to commit ourselves to educating ourselves and to be better every day. And we need to understand that even comments that were once made in jest and which once may have seemed funny are comments that today would be seen to be ignorant, and that unintended remarks that were never intended to cause offence can cause offence and can cause harm. This is a journey that I think we're all on: we need to understand that the generational damage we've experienced in Australia will need generational change.

Today I was viewing an interview that Australian football champion Eddie Betts had given on one of the television talk shows in relation to a much-publicised case in the last 10 days involving an Adelaide Crows footballer who had racially vilified a teammate. In his comments to the panel, Eddie said, 'You've got to call out racism when you see it; there's no room for racism in Australia.' That's patently self obvious to us, but why is Eddie Betts having to make those comments again today?

Racial vilification has been identified, sadly, through many high-profile sportspeople just in my lifetime. When you think about the AFL, there is the historic moment of Nicky Winmar pulling up his shirt and pointing to his skin, Michael Long and the Long Walk, and Adam Goodes and Michael O'Loughlin from the Sydney Swans. It staggers me that, in this day and age, one of the most gifted, highly respected and inspirational footballers, Eddie Betts, still has to give interviews and still has to talk about racism in a way that clearly was emotionally draining for him. He said he was tired. He said it hurts. It's impossible for us, as whitefellas, to stand in this place and to understand the pain of someone like Eddie Betts.

At its core, it is about respect. It is up to all Australians to commit themselves to being better than this. If a high-profile Aboriginal person like Eddie Betts, who has given so much joy to so many football fans, can find himself in tears trying to rationalise the racism that still exists today, how is it for a young Aboriginal boy or girl growing up without that opportunity and without that advantage yet still feeling racially vilified? It is a challenge for us all. This issue of respect and giving hope to future generations of Aboriginal people is a challenge we must all be prepared to take on.

Eddie Betts today invited us all to go on a journey together. I accept his invitation to go on that journey with people like Eddie and all Aboriginal people in Australia to support them in their efforts towards equality and reconciliation. But it's one thing to stand here and make speeches. Again, I'm reminded of a very famous football scene. I guess, if we're talking about Eddie Betts, we might as well keep talking about football scenes. It is of the late John Kennedy and the 1975 VFL grand final. The Hawthorn football club was being by flogged by North Melbourne and John Kennedy made this famous speech: 'Do something! Don't think! Do! At least you can come off and say, "At least I did something."'

We can't just make speeches; we have to do something. We have to do something every day. I commend again the minister for his work on the implementation plan, but it has to get down to individual Australians doing something every day. I've commented before in this place on the need to find more opportunities in our own daily lives to talk and listen to our Indigenous brothers and sisters. Again, it's about understanding the cultural differences. It's taking the time in our own lives in our civic society and our civil society, not just cheering on footy champions or tennis champions or other sporting greats or just having a professional working relationship with the occasional Aboriginal person we may come across in our professional experiences. It's taking the time to sit down for a cup of coffee or to have a meal.

I would hasten to suggest that most Australians of European background would hardly have an Indigenous friend or have had a meal or a beer or a cup of coffee and taken the time to understand their experiences. When we think about doing something, I challenge Australians to read about the Indigenous experience. Do something like understanding their stories and understanding the challenges that too many still face today. Do something like teaching our kids to recognise and identify racism and to call it out where they see it. It saddens me that the struggle remains real and the challenges remain great. While the commitment in this place is commendable, we need to turn it into better outcomes on the ground. We all need to do something.

6:44 pm

Photo of Ed HusicEd Husic (Chifley, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Industry and Innovation) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] At the outset, I acknowledge that I am speaking to the chamber from the land of traditional owners the Dharug people. I acknowledge them and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. Importantly, I acknowledge also that the House sits on Ngunawal and Ngambri land, and I pay my respects to the traditional owners of the land on which the parliament sits.

I'm proud of the fact that Chifley is home to the largest urban based Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community in the country. We have over 9,000 First Australians living in Chifley. Participating in this debate means something to them. Making sure that we are able to achieve what is set out in the Closing the Gap initiative means something to them on a number of levels, not least of which is in a very deeply day-to-day quality-of-life respect.

Before I go to the Closing the gap report that was brought down this year, I think it's important that we recognise that this year's report represents the failing of a concept that was championed some time ago to deliver for Indigenous people. Back in the early 2000s, when the push was on to say sorry and to spearhead reconciliation, conservatives at that point in time were pointing out very strongly that symbolism didn't matter. Conservatives, mind you, hold symbolism dearly whenever it counts towards or aligns with their political interests or values. Then they have no problem with embracing symbolism, but they were telling Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that symbolism was empty. Practical reconciliation was in order, and, by that, other things would be done to improve the quality of life for Aboriginal Australians.

On coming to office Kevin Rudd, as Prime Minister, and the Labor government did two things. They rightly addressed the issue of the stolen generations and said sorry to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders across the country in a landmark statement that was recognised the world over. They also took steps through the Closing the Gap initiative to start the process of practical reconciliation. But for conservatives who believe that this type of symbolism alone didn't matter and that there was only practical reconciliation through a focus on some of these things that are measured in Closing the Gap, it showed that there are a number of things that have to be dealt with in tandem. Some of those things were touched on by previous speakers—notably the impact of racism on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this country and the impact it has on their sense of self-worth and their right, their absolute right, to have a say in the direction of the nation. These things have to be called out, and they have to be considered more by the nation's parliament. We also have to wonder whether or not that is driving some of the massive underperformance we've seen in this year's Closing the gap report.

To be honest, this is a shameful report. There is no way anyone can sugar-coat what is in this year's report. This report is normally presented in February, but it's been shifted to August and presented to the government then. The targets were largely previous government targets that had been reset. I would argue that the resetting was used essentially to sweep prior failures under the table. The government is still failing. Of 17 targets, only three have been met or are on track—14 are not. After all this time, we have not been able to make headway on the majority of targets. All we've been able to achieve is failure. This has to stand as a massive concern to so many people, particularly the people that I care about in my part of Western Sydney. If you look at the national average for life expectancy and compare it for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women, there is a huge gap, an eight-year difference in life expectancy. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are almost twice as likely not to be assessed as developmentally on track in all five domains of the Australian Early Development Census.

It's so important for kids to meet their development milestones, and it is so hard for them to catch up when they aren't given the opportunity early in life. I do want to acknowledge that there's a lot of great work being done in the Chifley community by organisations from the Western Sydney Local Health District—Greater Western Aboriginal Health Service, Yenu Allowah Aboriginal Child and Family Centre and the Ngallu Wal Aboriginal Child and Family Centre. But their funding, in many instances, is always hanging in the balance and has to be fought for. In education, there's no clear data tracking on year 12 completion rates, tertiary qualification or youth engagement. On housing, the findings have highlighted that one in five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people don't have appropriate housing to live in, which is a massive issue, and it's only set to worsen with waiting times in the area of public housing being five to 10 years as a standard, at a time when the cost of private rentals is simply going through the roof. We're also seeing incarceration rates—after the royal commission into this over 20 years ago—still getting worse. Deaths in custody are still an issue, and there are increasing numbers of children in out-of-home care. Suicide rates are getting worse. We don't have datasets on how the government is performing in terms of reducing family violence.

I have a lot of other great organisations in my area: Butucarbin, run by Aunty Jennifer Beale and Jack Gibson; Baabayn, run by aunties; Marrin Weejali, which is led by Uncle Tony Hunter; and also Link-Up, which is helping the stolen generation, based out of Ropes Crossing. I was devastated, like Link-Up were, that COVID had meant we couldn't hold the COOEE Festival in Mount Druitt this year, but I'm confident this is going to happen very soon. A lot of these organisations do not need other organisations or levels of government coming in and telling them how to get stuff done. We need to have government listening more to locally based solutions around what can help in terms of improving the quality of life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our area. That absolutely has to occur, and we're not getting that. I think, in part, it's still a very paternalistic view that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities don't have the knowledge or wherewithal to be able to chart their own direction with respect to their own quality of life, which I think is an indictment. When you constantly hear Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups saying the design, the concept, the architecture and the way it's all constructed should be done from the ground up, and it's still not being done, it's an issue; and I suspect, in part, it's what's driving these poor outcomes.

But the other thing we do have to acknowledge is that racism is an issue. Every time it has been raised in the public context, people resile from it. I think we need to have difficult conversations around the way in which, over generations, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been treated and the way it was done deliberately to prevent them from being able to have a say in the way this country was run. I have to say it is a profound disappointment that what had been promised in terms of advancing the say of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in this country with a voice to parliament and should have been championed very strongly is being held back. It is not being held back by the opposition, I might add. Labor is not standing in the way of this. We believe this is a just and proper step that should be taken. But it is being held back, and Labor is determined, as we have said, to rectify this in the years ahead.

I want to make another point too. When Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples raise the issue of racism, we should not be criticising them or making the point that it's unrealistic, in terms of what's being put forward, or simply doesn't exist. Racism is being felt by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It's clearly the case. The double standards are clear. When they get up to protest Aboriginal deaths in custody, they go out in large numbers in rallies and are told that their super-spreader events are not allowed, but we have a member of this chamber who refuses to follow medical advice and won't even be mentioned or upbraided by his own Prime Minister. You can see those double standards would really hurt. I think we've got to do more. I think we've got to have honest conversations, and I think we've honestly got to improve a lacklustre and shameful performance when it comes to closing the gap.

6:54 pm

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land that we and probably anyone in this country we call Australia are on. I want to acknowledge the First Nations members of this parliament: our own mighty Senator Lidia Thorpe; Senators Malarndirri McCarthy, Pat Dodson and Jacqui Lambie; and members of this place Linda Burney and Ken Wyatt, the member for Barton and the member for Hasluck. I want to acknowledge, as we rise to talk about closing the gap, that we're on stolen land. We're on land in this country that we call Australia that became part of this country because of violence and dispossession. This place that we call Australia is founded on a history of violence and dispossession of the First Nations peoples. It's something that we still haven't fully recognised. It's something we still refuse to tell the truth about. The problem is that, until you recognise this, admit it and tell the truth, we are going to keep on committing versions of that same violence and dispossession day after day after day. It will be our First Nations people who will continue to suffer.

This Closing the Gap report is a shameful documentation of this government's failure not just to meet the targets that it has set for itself but to begin to tell the truth about what lies at the heart of this country so that we can then have a proper process of reconciliation and then march forward, together, with a treaty between all of the peoples of this country and our First Nations. This report that we are talking to is a shameful indictment of the government because it comes at a time when about 500 people have died in custody since the royal commission. Five hundred First Nations people have died in custody since the royal commission, and, shamefully, we can't even know the exact number because the government doesn't even report it correctly or in anywhere close to the sad, real time that it happens. This report comes at a time when so many First Nations people are being locked up that the incarcerations target set out in this report, which acknowledges that we are locking up our First Nations people at an unfair and unjust rate, isn't even on track to be met until 2093, so slow is this government moving.

Why does this happen? Well, a big part of the reason is that in this country we still lock up kids as young as 10. Kids as young as 10 who do something wrong should just be brought back in closer to the family and told how to live life right. They shouldn't be locked up in custody and then in jail. But that is what happens in this country. This country says the age of criminal responsibility in many places is as low as 10. I want people to think about the 10-, 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds they know and ask whether any one of them deserves to be in prison, whatever they've done.

We need to fix that. We need to fix the problem, in part, where it starts. That's why we've got to raise the age of criminal responsibility in this country. But there's nothing in this report about that. That is a big part of the reason why only three out of the 17 targets are on track to be met and why, as I said, the incarceration target in closing the gap there won't be met until 2093. What this report shows us is that this government and the other governments around Australia are on track to keep locking up kids as young as 10—and then we wonder why we're not meeting the targets, why we're not closing the gap and why we still have injustice and racism in this country.

This report tells us that there are more First Nations people dying by suicide and more being imprisoned. There are other elements of this report—and I'll talk about those briefly in a moment—but I've focused on this issue of incarceration and imprisonment because it is a truth that we are just unwilling to address in this country. Our First Nations people are crying out, 'Stop locking up our babies,' and it is time for us to listen. We look across at the racial injustices that are happening in the United States and we applaud the Black Lives Matter movement that is happening there. One of the things that that has done is shone a light on what is happening here too. And, just as we lend our wholehearted support to the Black Lives Matter movement around the world, we must lend our support to that movement here in Australia, and the big thing they are crying out for is justice. And the First Nations people of this country are entitled to justice.

There is one thing that is not in this report, and it is a critical component if we are to ever tell the truth and march together, and that is self-determination. Self-determination means giving First Nations people the right, the resources and the power to be in the driver's seat to determine their own destiny. Instead of continuing oppression and injustice, it's enablement and empowerment, and it's not only a recognition of the past injustices but then giving people the tools and the ability and the say and the right and the power to determine their own destinies.

When we are in a position to fully recognise First Nations people, then we will be in a position to talk about what it means to have a treaty, or treaties, in this country. We've seen some steps being taken towards that around other parts of our nation, but we've got to take the lead here in parliament. We've got to take the lead here in parliament, because the idea of a treaty is that it's a treaty between equals and it recognises that the First Nations people of this country were right and justified to fight to defend this country. It means acknowledging that those who died in the frontier wars are entitled to be acknowledged and recognised as heroes because they were defending their country. It means recognising in this place that this nation of ours that we call Australia was originally a rich and diverse land of many, many nations. When we recognise that, when we're prepared to tell the truth, when we're prepared to go through a proper process of truth-telling, reconciliation and healing, then we can move to the next step of having a treaty. So we must start the treaty process yesterday. We have to start the process of truth-telling and treaty, because only then are we going to be able to heal.

There are a lot of things that we've got to address in this country. We've got a climate crisis looming over us that we've just been told we've only got a few years to rein in or we're going to go over the cliff. We've got an inequality crisis in this country, where many people don't go to the dentist because they can't afford it and then end up sick or in hospital for something that could have prevented if only we had dental under Medicare. We've got a situation in this country where you can be working full-time and still be in poverty, while billionaires have increased their wealth faster than anyone else in any other country during the pandemic. We've got a lot of things that we've got to challenge in this country.

The best way we're going to be able to move forward is in partnership and in a treaty with our First Nations peoples, because then we get to write our own history. We can't change what has happened before, but we can acknowledge it, we can tell the truth about it and then we can write our own history, a history that future generations will be proud of. They will be so proud that we, here, took a moment to say, 'Time to tell the truth about the past; time to acknowledge the injustices and march forward together. We need a treaty now.'

7:04 pm

Photo of Zali SteggallZali Steggall (Warringah, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] I'm honoured to speak tonight on Closing the Gap: Commonwealth Implementation Plan 2021. In doing so, I acknowledge the Ngunawal and Ngambri elders of the Canberra region, where parliament gathers. I acknowledge the traditional custodians of my area here in Warringah, where I speak from this evening. Their names remain contested but they are part of the longest living surviving culture in the world. In acknowledging them, I acknowledge their sorrow and I commit myself to genuine healing. I also recognise that their land was never ceded.

In 2019 a 12-year-old schoolboy, Dujuan, the star of the moving documentary In My Blood It Runs, went to the UN to plead with them to listen to him. He said at the time, 'The Australian government is not listening.' The stories and statistics that define the gap between Indigenous Australians and the general Australian population are appalling. This is a shame on all of us. While the Closing the Gap agreement is a step in the right direction, I reiterate my response to this implementation plan, as I did when the agreement was first announced last year. It does not go far enough. As with so many things this government does, it is simply not ambitious enough.

In parliament last week we heard that even if the targets to reduce Indigenous incarceration by 2031 are achieved, Indigenous adults will be 11 times more likely to be incarcerated and Indigenous youth 12 times more likely to be incarcerated than the rest of the Australian population. These are not acceptable statistics. There are some simple things that we can do to quickly reduce this rate and this inequity. The most obvious is by raising the age of criminality and incarceration from 10 to at least 14 years of age. This was up there on Dujuan's list of wants that he read to the UN in 2019. It's abhorrent that we're still locking up children as young as 10 years of age. The rate of recidivism for those locked up at such an early age is huge. This has a profound impact on their future prospects and outcomes.

This year the Council of Attorneys-General again failed to raise the age of criminal responsibility from just 10 to 14 years of age. In response, 48 organisations publicly released their submissions. Ninety per cent of those submissions highlighted that it is in breach of international human rights law or international standards to keep the age at 10. Ninety-six per cent said the current laws are contributing to the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in prison. Priscilla Atkins, the chair of NATSILS, said that no child belongs in prison. Raising the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 is one action the Australian government can take right now that will have an immediate and generational impact to end the incarceration of First Nations kids and give our kids a brighter future.

What is the government waiting for? It's pretty simple: children belong in classrooms and playgrounds, not in handcuffs, courtrooms or prison cells. The $1 billion of funding announced to fund the Closing the Gap agreement is an important step in the right direction. I welcome the cooperation of the states and territories and the Coalition of Peaks. We need a greater voice for Indigenous people and a seat at the table, and the Indigenous Coalition of Peaks is incredibly important. There's a lot of work to do. I don't doubt that more funding and effort will be required. I particularly welcome the $378 million announced for the redress scheme for members of the stolen generation. People in Warringah care deeply about this issue and convey to me on a frequent basis their disappointment that the government has been unable to find the ambition or the bravery to actually move ahead with one of the biggest issues that need to be solved.

I'm so disappointed that a key element which drives the gap is still not addressed—that is, the lack of recognition for Indigenous Australians in the Constitution and the establishment of a voice to parliament, as called for in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. I accept the invitation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart and I so desperately and dearly hope that the government could too. The referendum is not funded in these measures, nor was a national campaign to educate the population about the need for constitutional recognition. We need Indigenous recognition in the Constitution. We need an Indigenous voice in the Parliament of Australia, and only then will we make substantial progress towards closing the gap. While I welcome this renewed commitment to closing the gap and the consultation with the coalition, the peaks and the national cabinet, I reiterate my call to the government for Prime Minister Morrison to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14, devise a question and publicly commit to a referendum on a voice to parliament without delay and put the referendum to the Australian people during what remains of 2021. There is no doubt we are now approaching another election that will be coming up in six to eight months, and this has still not been addressed.

Over recent weeks we've seen incredible feats by our Indigenous athletes: Ash Barty conquering Wimbledon, and Patty Mills carrying our flag and leading our nation in the Olympic opening ceremony, then lifting the Boomers to an historic win on the basketball court and proudly celebrating with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flag. We saw the Matildas proudly display the Aboriginal flag before their first match. I wish the chamber would have an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flag flying as well. As a country, we have to get better at acknowledging our Indigenous heritage and celebrating it. There's no doubt that when we can achieve that, when we can do that and celebrate that heritage, is when we will all grow, because it is the heritage of all of us. As Australia, it will only be then that we can all truly be proud, and we will be the richer for having truly recognised our cultural heritage.

7:12 pm

Photo of Tony ZappiaTony Zappia (Makin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On Monday night, when the Minister for Indigenous Australians made his contribution on this ministerial statement, there were four other coalition members here in the chamber. Two of them were on duty. Everyone can draw their own conclusions and pass their own judgement on the significance of that observation, but it is reminiscent of the walkout from this chamber in 2008 when the national apology was given. It says much about the underlying difficulties for Indigenous Australians. Having said that, I listened carefully to the contribution of the member for Gippsland, and I commend him on his comments.

On 28 August 1963 Martin Luther King Jr, standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, delivered his now famous 'I have a dream' speech to 250,000 people who had joined him in support of a civil rights march. I'll quote from his speech and in particular his opening comments. If I use words that are not parliamentary or appropriate in today's society, I make it clear they are not my words, but they are the words specifically used by Martin Luther King Jr. He said:

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. …

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.

Here in Australia, in the same era as that of Martin Luther King Jr., Australians were campaigning for equality for Indigenous Australians. The 1967 referendum overwhelmingly supported that, with a 90 per cent vote in favour of constitutional change and recognition of Indigenous Australians. Just as in the USA, the 1960s here in Australia were an era of hope that discrimination and injustice would end.

More than half a century later, millions of people in the USA turned out in support of Black Lives Matter marches—again shining a spotlight on racial injustice and discrimination against African-Americans. Here in Australia, Adam Goodes, a proud Adnyamathanha and Narungga man, was chosen as Australian of the Year. Adam Goodes was a champion Australian rules footballer. He was one of the sport's very best: a dual Brownlow medallist, a dual premiership player, a four-time all-Australian player and much, much more. In 2015 his AFL career came to an end. After 372 games, Adam Goodes was hounded into retirement by relentless and widespread bullying and racist vitriol. Adam Goodes was proud of his heritage and proud of his Indigenous culture, and he openly displayed that pride. But not everyone was pleased about that.

Over recent weeks, further examples of racial vilification of sportspeople here in Australia have been reported widely. The member for Gippsland referred to some quotes from Eddie Betts about this very matter. I want to add a further quote to what Eddie said:

We as Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islander people are sick of fighting because it just keeps happening.

The point I make when referring to both the 1967 referendum and the Martin Luther King Jr. speech is that 50 years after there was hope that things would change, but the reality is that nothing much has changed. The reality is that, despite eloquent and motivating speeches by civic leaders, despite publicly endorsed changes to the Australian Constitution and the introduction of anti-racial vilification laws, despite five decades of targeted programs to bridge the gap and to end disadvantage and despite the national apology, racial, sexual, cultural, religious and social discrimination here in Australia and throughout the world continue.

Discrimination and persecution have existed since time immemorial. They have been constant human traits. Anyone who is in any way different is often shunned and sidelined, or mocked. Whilst laws may control behaviour and restrain people's feelings, they will never change what's in a person's heart and in a person's mind. Only understanding will do that. And only a person who has felt the humiliation of discrimination, who has faced rejection because of their colour or who has walked in the shoes of the oppressed will ever truly understand that.

Only when decisions about Indigenous Australians are made by those who understand will the gaps be closed, which is why a voice to parliament, truth telling and treaty form the foundation of the Uluru statement. But let me also make it clear that truth telling and treaty are a two-way process. To date, bridging the gap has focused on the responsibilities of government; on the expenditures and initiatives of government. Bridging the gap is best achieved when both sides come together in shared responsibility, which is why it is disappointing that the Morrison government has not embraced the Uluru statement in the spirit in which it was given and from the effort and consultation that went into preparing the statement. It was well-considered and it proposed a way forward—a way that would bring all parties together, a way that would overcome disadvantage and a way forward that may one day bring all Australians together. But, instead, this government, the Morrison government, turns to a cashless welfare card as one of its solutions. I ask the government and government members to think about the message that that sends to Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders, the first Indigenous peoples of this land, about how this government thinks of them if that is its solution to the disadvantage that we talk about here in this chamber on a regular basis. That sends the wrong message to those people, and, understandably, their hurt and pain continues.

I urge government members to think about the way forward, to think about the Uluru statement. Yes, it may not be perfect, but at least get involved in the discussions with the people who went to great lengths to put it together and make it work.

7:20 pm

Photo of Kate ThwaitesKate Thwaites (Jagajaga, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] I begin tonight by acknowledging that I am speaking from the land of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation, and I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. I also acknowledge that the chamber where you are is on the land of the Ngunawal and the Ngambri peoples and again pay respects to those owners and custodians of the land.

When Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered the national Apology to the Stolen Generations in February 2008, he made it clear that saying sorry wasn't enough, and it's still not. There is no more important task in front of this parliament than closing the gap. Even in the middle of a pandemic, this is the greatest challenge facing this nation, and it is one that we must bring a new approach, new ideas and new commitment to.

I want to commend the work done by the Coalition of Peaks, led by Pat Turner, to get us to this point with this refreshed Closing the Gap. We do have to realise that Aboriginal people and Aboriginal communities are in the best place to know what's needed to change and how to deliver that change. We have to have an approach that's not just set here in Canberra, and we can't expect one approach to work in communities across the country; we must be prepared to do things differently. That's why I'm very proud to be part of a Labor team that is committed to genuine change, and that must start by acting on the Uluru Statement from the Heart—the statement that First Nations people went to so much effort and took time to put together to tell us what they wanted for themselves: to have a voice to parliament that's recognised in our Constitution.

We do all know that changing Australia's Constitution isn't easy. It shouldn't be undertaken lightly. But this is a process that has been going for many years now, and it has not been undertaken lightly. We are at a turning point, and it will require passion and dedication from all of us in this chamber and outside to succeed, and we must succeed to go through a process of truth-telling and treaty-making so that, on the other side, we emerge as a stronger, fairer country.

I'm proud that a future Labor government is committed to establishing a makarrata commission as a matter of priority. We have to tell a different story about this country. We have to reckon with our past so that we can close the gap for the future. I'm proud that a future Labor government is committed to strengthening economic and job opportunities for First Nations people and communities. Employment outcomes are of course interconnected to other quality-of-life outcomes such as health, education and housing. I'm proud that a future Labor government will recognise that First Nations people have authority, knowledge and experience derived from so many millennia of custodianship over their land and their water, and that we will recognise that through doubling the number of Indigenous rangers to 3,800 jobs by the end of the decade. I've seen firsthand just how powerful that program is in so many communities, and I know what a difference rolling that program out more broadly will make.

For eight years, this coalition government has shifted the responsibility for progress on closing the gaps to the states and territories. It's not good enough. The government has clearly walked away from having a voice to parliament. This is not good enough. We have seen an absolute lack of action from the government. Even though we know there are members on their own side who support having a voice to parliament, they're captured by the voices who say, 'It's too hard.' It is not too hard. It is the job of all of us in this place to act on the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

I welcome the reparations for the stolen generation which were announced by the Prime Minister. I acknowledge that it is too late for too many survivors who have already passed away. We must understand that there are ongoing issues, ongoing problems and intergenerational trauma, and that trauma is felt not just by individual people but by whole families and whole communities. As a nation, we must dedicate ourselves to addressing that.

As I said, there is no more important challenge in front of this community. Knowing that only three out of the 17 targets are on track must commit all of us to doing better. We must take a new approach. We must work together, we must listen to Indigenous people and we must lift the quality of life for all First Nations people and for future generations across our country.

7:26 pm

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fenner, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury) Share this | | Hansard source

Dowra noona, dowra Ngoonawal Youngu, nula-mun-yin dooni-mun-yin Noonanawal-wari dowra-wari dindi wan-gara-lin-gin-yin. I give this speech on Ngunawal land about important work and challenging work for the nation. Out of the 17 Closing the Gap targets that have been set, only three are on track. Labor, of course, welcomes the government's announcements, but we have to do more—much more. To reduce Indigenous incarceration, we need a focused strategy on justice reinvestment. Over recent decades, crime rates have fallen while incarceration has risen, and Indigenous people have borne the brunt. To boost Indigenous employment we need more investment in the Indigenous Rangers program and large employers publicly reporting their Indigenous workforce. We need to abolish the failed CDP and fix education policy. The government's so-called Job-ready Graduates Package increased fees for Indigenous students by 15 per cent. We need an Indigenous voice to parliament and a makarrata commission with responsibility for truth-telling and treaty. That's what the Uluru Statement from the Heart called for—voice, truth, treaty.

But there are also amazing successes. The Indigenous Marathon Foundation, headed by Rob de Castella and coached by Damian Tuck, has seen over 100 graduates. This year's squad is just as remarkable as the ones that went ahead of it. I want to thank those, including some members of this House, who helped sponsor me for Ironman Cairns and helped to raise $19,606 for the extraordinary work of the Indigenous Marathon Foundation.

In my Indigenous community of the Jervis Bay Territory, I want to acknowledge Lana Read, the principal of Jervis Bay School; Luke Scott, the manager of Jervis Bay administration; and the Wreck Bay volunteer fire brigade, which boasts 35 volunteers out of a community of 150. Beat that, any other volunteer community fire brigade in Australia! I want to acknowledge Jackson Brown, Darren Brown, George Brown and Sherrie Tripp and recognise Anthony Roberts of the Booderee National Park. From the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council, I acknowledge the CEO, Anne-Marie Farrugia, and current and recent members of the board, Annette Brown, Beverley Ardler, Erica Ardler, Jeffrey McLeod, Leon Brown, Julie Freeman, Clive Freeman, Kaylene McLeod and Tom. I acknowledge Jeff Williams, the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council caring for country supervisor; and Sarah Ketelhohn, the director of the Gudjahgahmiamia early learning centre, an extraordinary early learning centre in the middle of the Wreck Bay community.

Closing the gap is hard work, but it is important work. The member for Jagajaga was spot on: there is no more important work for this House than the question of Indigenous reconciliation. It is vital that we commit ourselves to this cause and do all that we can to ensure that we close these gaps. I want to come back here next year knowing that more than three of the 17 targets are on track, able to rejoice in the work that we have done together and able to say to Indigenous Australians and to the Coalition of Peaks—led by the remarkable Pat Turner—that we are finally beginning to get that work on track.