Senate debates

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Governor-General's Speech


1:38 pm

Photo of Nigel ScullionNigel Scullion (NT, Country Liberal Party, Minister for Indigenous Affairs) Share this | Hansard source

I rise today to make a contribution to the debate on the address-in-reply to the Governor-General's speech in opening this parliament. It is an important debate and one that I would like to use to talk about the challenges in front of us in Indigenous affairs and our priorities for this term and also reflect on the progress to date.

I would like to thank the people of Australia for re-electing the Turnbull Liberal-National government and the confidence they have put in our government and the agenda that we put forward. I would especially like to acknowledge the hard work of the Nationals led by Barnaby Joyce and Senator Nash in the great achievement of adding to our numbers in that other place and keeping all these senators here. I acknowledge the hard work of Senator Nash and Senator Canavan, campaigning across the country, and the equally impressive efforts of Senator McKenzie, Senator Williams and Senator O'Sullivan holding their respective seats. The Nationals are a proud team in the Senate and we have got a lot to be proud of over the last six months. I want to acknowledge the contribution of our staff, led by Scott Mitchell. The Nationals are truly a family, and Scott has done a great job in managing that family. The hard work was definitely worth it.

Before I get into the substance of my speech, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the country on which we are meeting today and pay my respects to their elders both past and present. I would like to especially make mention of Ms Tina Brown, who performed the wonderful welcome to country during the first sitting week.

As I will talk about later in this speech, I strongly believe issues in Indigenous affairs cross over the political divide, extending equally to the crossbenches. We must work together if we are to deliver outcomes for our First Australians. So I do acknowledge that the introduction of a formal welcome to country was something that those on the other side introduced, and it now holds a special place in our opening week. I think you will all agree that Tina delivered a stirring welcome to country, and that builds on the strong legacy of the welcome to country that Aunty Matilda delivered a number of times in this place.

Following the election in 2013, I was delighted to be appointed the Minister for Indigenous Affairs and I was humbled to be reappointed after the election this year. I see this as a great opportunity to make a fundamental change to this most important area of national policy. As I have often said, this is the only job I want in this place. The coalition recognises and values Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and people. And we are determined to make the gains required to deliver better outcomes for our First Australians.

To deliver this, we are committed to empowering local communities by increasing school attendance, providing more job opportunities and promoting community safety. These three priorities are critical to establishing the change needed to support better outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, particularly in remote areas, to ensure First Australians and their communities can realise their hopes and aspirations for the future, and that we make the gains required to meet closing the gap targets.

The work program of my first term constantly evolved because of the discussions I had in over 200 community visits in over 150 communities. Progress and priorities in my portfolio should not just be judged or determined by bureaucrats or academics in the major centres based primarily in the south-east corner of our country. It is something we also need to hear from the people in the community, something we need to listen to, whether that community be in Redfern, Yatala or Yirrkala.

I want to reflect for a moment on what Galarrwuy Yunupingu recounted recently as part of his essay in The Monthly. He said:

With my family I have built Gunyangara into a place that we hoped all Yolngu places might be, back when hope powered the homeland movement. Men and women go to work and sweat for their wages, children go to school, old people are safer and happier, and we are making our way.

It is these priorities that I have heard across this great country, time and time again. They are priorities held as much by non-Indigenous people as our First Australians. And they were the priorities that we all recognised needed to be acted on after many years across both sides of politics, where the change that Indigenous Australians should have expected had not been delivered on.

Now this change has not always been popular, and I acknowledge that we have not always got everything right. But things have started to change and for the better. Through the funding reforms we have introduced as part of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, we now know for the first time where Indigenous affairs funding is going, something that I was never able to get an answer to when I was in opposition.

We now have a much better understanding of what is working and what is not; and, importantly, we now have approximately 55 per cent of the funds for these programs actually going to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations. Despite some of the myths that have been peddled by those with alternative agendas, there has actually been a significant increase in the number of Indigenous organisations that have been funded. It is still not high enough, and I will be pushing to make sure that good, robust organisations that are getting the job done are getting funded, and we would really hope that they would be run by Indigenous people or have a high number of Indigenous people working for them, because that is the future.

Increasingly, we will work with communities to move beyond the old transactional way of doing business. We would all know in this place that education is a passport to a better future for children everywhere. It is no different for Indigenous children, wherever they live. The coalition is committed to improving Indigenous school attendance and is working with states and territories through COAG to address the issue. Without a proper education Indigenous children are more likely than not to be on a path towards welfare dependency, interaction with the justice system, poor health, poor housing and little hope for the future that other Australians enjoy. The coalition is using all possible levers to ensure Indigenous children have the opportunity to fulfil their full potential. That begins with being at school regularly to receive an education.

Significant progress has been made. Through our Remote School Attendance Strategy we are working with families, schools and communities to ensure more children regularly attend school to receive an education. The cycle of poverty and disadvantage ends with a good education. Through the Remote School Attendance Strategy the coalition has started to turn around a long-term trend of declining school attendance. We now see many more children regularly, as part of a daily pattern, attending school. More children in remote areas are now attending school on a regular basis than in the five years before we came to office.

Employment is another of the coalition's top three priorities for Indigenous affairs. We all know that a purpose in life is absolutely central to the way people feel about themselves. The coalition is going to continue to focus on new and innovative ways to support Indigenous Australians into real, meaningful work that provides the opportunity to move away from welfare reliance. One of the most common messages from Indigenous elders and leaders in communities is that passive welfare destroys individuals and whole communities. They want governments to work with them to end this cycle—a cycle which only serves to entrench poverty and disadvantage. In remote communities around one in five adults of working age receive some sort of welfare. Too many people move into welfare at a young age and stay on it for extended periods, sometimes for life. The coalition is committed to delivering new and innovative support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people seeking real and meaningful work.

Reflecting on the recommendations of Mr Andrew Forrest's Creating parity review of Indigenous training and employment programs, the coalition has refocused training and employment programs to ensure they deliver real outcomes. Payment for employment programs are now directly linked to real job outcomes. We have ended the cycle of training for training's sake. Training is geared to the skills needed by employers and to securing jobs for individuals and training them into those jobs. This ends the old, failed model of placing people on the never-ending cycle of training which leads nowhere and only compounds the individual's sense of failure as certificates are collected but no jobs eventuate.

Payment for employment programs are now firmly focused on outcomes of at least 26 weeks of employment. This ensures employers, employment brokers and training providers stick with people moving from training to work and support them through this critical transition. This has led to a dramatic cut in the amount of churn that exists in our employment programs. We know that, if we can support a person into a job and ensure they make it through the first six months, they are more likely to remain employed and end their personal cycle of welfare reliance. There is enormous goodwill amongst Australian employers to hire Indigenous people. Previous approaches did not, however, provide them with workers who had the skills that they needed. We have addressed the needs of job seekers and employers and are getting results.

A coordinated approach to employment through Commonwealth procurement and public sector recruitment, and work with some of Australia's largest employers, is creating real opportunities for our First Australians. Nationally, employment programs in my portfolio, along with jobactive, have supported Indigenous Australians into around 47,000 jobs since 1 July 2015—the lives of 47,000 people have been turned around by the ability to get off welfare and start to build a future through meaningful activities for themselves, their families and their communities. Our Community Development Program, which commenced on 1 June 2015, is getting people active and making remote communities better places to live. Almost 80 per cent of participants in CDP are now placed in activities, compared to only 45 per cent at the end of Labor's failed Remote Jobs and Communities Program.

There has been an explosion in the number of Indigenous businesses winning government contracts thanks to the coalition's targeted Indigenous Procurement Policy. This has been a real game changer. The dramatic increase in demand for Indigenous business contracts is up from $6 million in 2012-13 to more than $200 million last year. This is driving a growing Indigenous business sector, providing even more job opportunities. We are working with Indigenous business leaders to further develop a strong, vibrant Indigenous business sector to ensure that Indigenous Australians share in our agenda for jobs and for growth.

The coalition's plan to build the Indigenous business sector will create new employment opportunities and help open up our Indigenous businesses to domestic and global markets. The coalition will develop Indigenous business opportunities through three main initiatives, including the $115 million Indigenous Entrepreneurs package and building on our partnership with major employers through the Employment Parity Initiative to require companies to purchase more of their own goods and services from Indigenous businesses. So the Commonwealth have provided the leadership, we have provided the infrastructure and we have provided the processes for assessment. We now call upon the other government jurisdictions as well as corporate Australia to take the same road. We will be building on the outstanding success of our Commonwealth Indigenous Procurement Policy to ensure three per cent of all government contracts are with Indigenous businesses by 2020. Building the capacity of our Indigenous business sector not only makes good economic sense for our nation and for Indigenous Australians but also puts us on the path to meeting a key Closing the Gap target.

This term we will continue to focus on the significant numbers of Indigenous working-age people who are disengaged from work. We will work on youth transitioning from school to work and on moving people out of the justice system, and we will expand initiatives that ensure demand for Indigenous businesses and Indigenous job seekers continues to rise. However, with nearly 80 per cent of the Indigenous population based in suburban, regional and rural areas and serviced by mainstream programs, the coalition will ensure a whole-of-government approach to ensure all employment programs are levered and coordinated to best support the particular circumstances of Indigenous Australians.

Every Australian has a right to live in an environment and a home free from violence. Rates of violence in many Indigenous communities are too high. That is why safety is one of the coalition's top three priorities in Indigenous affairs. There is strong evidence that the key driver of violence in Indigenous communities, including family violence, are alcohol and substance misuse, child abuse and neglect, poor low school attendance and low employment levels.

We are committed to practical action to create safe communities and to prevent violence whilst also ensuring that victims receive the support they need through targeted investments. We are committed to protecting Indigenous women and children, given that Indigenous women are 34 times more likely than non-Indigenous women to be hospitalised as a result of family violence. Indigenous victims of family violence make up about 25 per cent of victims nationally. That is why the Indigenous Advancement Strategy included $32.2 million in the 2016-17 budget to deliver a number of targeted initiatives to reduce Indigenous family and domestic violence as part of the third action plan to reduce violence against women and children. As part of our $100 million package of measures to improve frontline support and services and to lever innovative technologies to keep women safe, we have also allocated $21 million for specific measures to help Indigenous women and communities. We have invested $186 million across government in Indigenous-specific initiatives for women's safety and family violence protection.

The coalition is also committed to tackling the underlying disadvantage that increases the likelihood of a person coming into contact with the criminal justice system. I am committed to reducing Indigenous offending, victimisation and incarceration by tackling the drivers of crime, including alcohol and drug misuse, poor educational outcomes and disconnection from employment. States and territories are responsible for their criminal justice systems, including policing. However, this, like many issues, needs governments to work together to ensure that we get better outcomes. In the 2016-17 year the government is providing $256 million through the Indigenous Advancement Strategy for activities to improve community safety and to address the drivers of Indigenous incarceration. The coalition will maintain its focus on efforts to deal with the factors that lead people to prison in the first place and those factors that too often lead them back there too soon after their release.

I am working with Minister Cash, along with state and territory governments, Indigenous prisoners, Indigenous communities, service providers and academics, to look at ways to better transition Indigenous people from incarceration to employment in order to reduce the risk of offending. A key focus will be working with states and territories to support rehabilitation and vocational training activities within the prison system and to ensure our post-release assistance leads to employment. These achievements have been possible because the coalition is committed to working with communities.

Through changes implemented by the coalition, Indigenous affairs is now at the heart of government. We have a Prime Minister, a cabinet minister, a cabinet subcommittee and an Indigenous advisory committee all committed to delivering better outcomes for First Australians. We have directed funding away from bureaucracies and towards local communities. This work has been supported by the Prime Minister's Indigenous Advisory Council, led by the Chair, Warren Mundine, and Deputy Chair, Ngiare Brown. The council has provided valuable advice to ensure programs deliver real, positive change in the lives of Aboriginal people.

Significant reform to the delivery of programs and services has seen Indigenous affairs elevated to the peak of bureaucracy within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, which ensures that every single decision of government is closely scrutinised for its impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. We are focusing on genuine engagement directly with communities. We are working with traditional owners, elders and communities to identify the fundamental priorities and policy approaches that will lead to greater engagement in schooling, training and work and that will lead to safer communities.

These things are fundamental to building healthy communities. Tackling years of disadvantage is an enormous challenge, but if we work in partnership with Indigenous people, governments, business and service providers, I believe that this can be done. And this is a challenge for all of us in this place. It is not something that just rests with one side of politics. If we take a political approach, we will not achieve the change that First Australians—in fact, all Australians—expect of us. I call on all parliamentarians in both places to ensure that they get out into their communities and work with Indigenous Australians and come back to me and tell me what they think is working and not working. I know that a one-size-fits-all approach will not work. I ask for your assistance in ensuring that we are meeting the expectations of those people that we serve. I look forward to working with all of you over the next term and continuing the coalition's significant results in Indigenous affairs.


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