Senate debates

Wednesday, 8 March 2023


Closing the Gap, National Apology to the Stolen Generations: 15th Anniversary

10:25 am

Photo of Patrick DodsonPatrick Dodson (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

nator DODSON () (): I rise to note the 15th anniversary of the National Apology to the Stolen Generations and the Commonwealth's Closing the Gap implementation plan 2023. The apology from the Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, at the time was a momentous occasion for the nation, a huge step forward for reconciliation in Australia.

We should never forget our history—the good, the bad and the ugly—but we also need tangible action to address the poorer outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. That is why the tabling of our government's first Closing the Gap implementation plan under the national agreement is important. It is a strong demonstration of our commitment to improving the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

I was grateful to attend several events in honour of the anniversary of the apology and speak with survivors of the stolen generations from right around the country. It is both humbling and motivating to hear their stories, their optimism and their hope. In statements today we must not shy away, though, from the landscape that is before us. While there has been some progress, the efforts of previous governments have been ineffective. The data speaks plainly of a stagnation in addressing the needs of Indigenous communities. Progress across most socioeconomic outcome areas has stalled. Some have even gone backwards.

In the midst of all of this we must not lose sight of the very real human cost of inaction. Aboriginal lives must not be treated like some beads on a departmental abacus. Closing the gap demands a spirit of transformation, genuine partnership and focused attention on outcomes. The government, in partnership with the Coalition of Peaks, is committed to securing real and transformational change for First Nations peoples.

The new 2023 implementation plan is about exactly that. It gives purpose and direction to our efforts to transform government, in line with the national agreement's four priority reforms. We are investing $424 million in additional funding to Closing the Gap across water infrastructure, food security, family violence and health. This is a top-up of the $1.2 billion in practical initiatives already being implemented following the October budget.

These announcements are significant: real funding and real investment in Aboriginal communities on the issues that matter most. But the implementation plan is also about accountability and transparency, by bringing together the actions that each department is taking over the next 12 months. Perhaps the most significant is that the implementation plan exists in a context that is in need of broad structural reform.

What has been missing is the Voice. It's the missing piece. A key element of the government's commitment to improve outcomes in closing the gap is its pursuit of a referendum to establish a voice to the parliament. It is grounded in evidence. Outcomes for our people are simply better when we have a say, have choice and make decisions about our lives. The Voice will do exactly that. Consistent with the national agreement, the Voice will be transformational and will better enable First Peoples to be engaged in decision-making and priorities.

This prospect should attract bipartisan support, especially given that these priority reforms were agreed by the previous government. The 2023 implementation plan and up-and-coming referendum promises a truly transformational moment for First Nations and real, lasting change: recognition in the Constitution and ability to make representation, to the government, into the parliament on matters that affect First Nations peoples and a matter for which a voice is needed to improve the outcomes in this closing the gap space.


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