Wednesday, 8 March 2023
Closing the Gap, National Apology to the Stolen Generations: 15th Anniversary
I want to begin by restating the Greens' support for closing the gap and equity in First Nations health but also for First Nations people more broadly. As a proud Yamatji-Noongar woman, I'm proud to be the portfolio holder for the Australian Greens on First Nations issues.
First Nations people are overrepresented in our health system but also across all systems. We get sicker, we die earlier, we are poorer, we are arrested and locked up more, we have our children taken away from us more and we are less likely to finish school. On top of all of that, we are more likely to experience poverty and have less money. But make no mistake: this was not always the case. For thousands of years First Nations people managed their land and we managed ourselves. We looked after ourselves. We followed our cultural protocols and practices. We are, and were, deeply connected to our country, our culture and our community. This has changed since colonisation across various parts of our wonderful country.
First Nations people have been subjected to countless policies from successive governments since Federation, both with good intentions and with bad. Unfortunately, when the intentions have been good, such as with the Closing the Gap initiative, the results have been average. But, when the intentions have been bad, the results have been catastrophic for First Nations people. It is these policies that have resulted in the circumstances we are facing today, which the Closing the Gap initiative is aiming to address. They are the impacts of government after government telling First Nations communities what they need instead of listening to them, working with them and allowing First Nations communities to do what they have done for generations.
Unfortunately, what the last Closing the gap report showed is that many of these gaps not only continue to exist but are growing. In key areas, such as health, education, incarceration, life expectancy, suicide rates and children in out-of-home care, we are in fact going backwards, and this is shameful. Four out of the 18 socioeconomic targets are on track—only four—which is absolutely disgraceful. For the other 14, either they are not on track or there is no new data, so we don't even know if they are on track or not. This in itself is a huge problem that needs to be addressed.
We are pleased to see the investments into closing the gap in the 2022 October budget, specifically in the areas of health, housing and justice. However, since its inception, governments have invested millions into closing the gap and, as I said earlier, only four of the 18 targets are on track. We absolutely need to see progress. Now the current government has released its implementation plan, which sets out a plan for making progress towards these 18 targets. This plan includes more funding. The Greens welcome this. Of course we want to see these gaps closed, but the reality is that nothing is happening. We are not seeing the results we need to.
What is integral to the success of closing the gap is not the amount of money that any government chooses to invest in it, although—don't get me wrong—that does go a long way. It is the involvement of First Nations people that is integral. First Nations people need to be deeply embedded as we tackle these issues. From housing to health to education to incarceration, it's not enough that First Nations people just provide some input and then go away and all the decisions are made at government tables. We cannot do the same things we've done before and expect different outcomes. As the Minister for Indigenous Australians said, more of the same is not good enough.
We need to do things differently by working in partnerships with communities to get better results. We need to make sure that cultural protocols are followed, that cultural differences and nations are considered and that information is communicated in language. The only way we can do this is by having First Nations people in the driver's seat and involved in driving this process every step of the way. This is key not only in achieving the targets but also in respecting our sovereignty and our self-determination.
I'm disheartened that this could not have been a more positive speech; however, I look forward to working with the government on making actual progress on these 18 targets, because First Nations people deserve better than this. Further, the government needs to implement the recommendations of the Bringing them home report and the deaths in custody report. These reports have been collecting dust for decades.