Wednesday, 11 August 2021
Closing the Gap
Last week, the Prime Minister presented the most recent Closing the gap report to this parliament. I want to begin by acknowledging, at the outset of my comments, the traditional owners, the Awabakal and Warrimay people, on whose country I ordinarily live, play and work in Newcastle. Notwithstanding the government's efforts to rebadge this progress report as a brand new implementation plan, this is the eighth consecutive year in which I have stood in this parliament to draw attention to the ongoing, but no less shocking, rates of disparity and disadvantage that continue to exist for First Nations people across Australia. For eight long years this government has kicked the can down the road, refusing to take responsibility for closing the gap on inequality experienced by First Nations people.
Two years ago the Prime Minister proposed a new approach to closing the gap. While we welcome the government's new-found commitment to a co-design process, what we have in fact seen over the last two years have been ongoing delays, a resetting of targets and an off-loading of responsibilities to states and territories—and, indeed, First Nations organisations and people themselves—to future parliaments and to future generations. Last week we also saw the Prime Minister rule out a First Nations voice to parliament before the next election. That's why Labor are determined to break the Morrison government's policy stagnancy and push forward by empowering First Nations people.
Labor will deliver on a national process for treaty making and truth telling, strengthening economic and job opportunities for First Nations people, and empowering First Nations people in caring for country and water. Listening to and empowering First Nations people will be at the very core of Labor's approach to closing the gap and reconciliation. Labor remains the only political party committed to implementing the Uluru statement in full, a constitutionally enshrined voice in parliament, and a makarrata commission to oversee a national process for treaty making as well as truth telling. This is what First Nations people ask for, and this is what Labor will deliver.
A Labor government will take action to address disparity through policies that strengthen First Nations peoples' economic and job opportunities. Our economic policies include setting targets to increase public and private sector employment of First Nations people, getting on with the Productivity Commission inquiry into the market for First Nations arts and crafts, protecting intellectual property rights and supporting inclusive growth for Indigenous-owned businesses, both domestic and international. Labor's environmental policies include doubling the number of Indigenous rangers, providing an additional $10 million each year for Indigenous protected areas and delivering the $40 million of cultural water promised back in 2018 but not yet delivered by the Morrison government.
Listening to and empowering First Nations people, as I said, are at the core of Labor's approach. Labor took a policy about the stolen generation reparations to the last election, so we therefore welcome this government's belated recognition of this need, this very powerful need, to establish a stolen generations compensation scheme. This is an important initiative, and the government needs to get it right. We hope the government has learnt some very important lessons from its less than ideal administration of the National Redress Scheme. This is a scheme that must be survivor focused, culturally safe and embedded in trauma informed care and practice. The stolen generations deserve nothing less.
In the final moments remaining to me, I wish to draw the attention of the House to the need to really tackle the gross overrepresentation of First Nations people in the criminal justice system. This is one of the most significant social justice issues facing Australia today. That's why Labor has committed more than $90 million over four years to justice reforms to reduce incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and to reduce the number of Aboriginal deaths in custody. We want to divert that money into justice reinvestment programs. These are evidence based. The government could do well to take that policy from Labor and implement it today—no need to wait.