Senate debates

Wednesday, 8 March 2023


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

10:40 am

Photo of Jana StewartJana Stewart (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

Last month we marked 15 years since then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered an apology for the cruel and unjust policies and practices that tore apart Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families across the nation, impacts of which are still evident today. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people sat with their family and friends, in the gallery and together on the lawns of parliament and watched on their screens in workplaces and schools right across the country. I chose to watch the apology with my community at the Aboriginal Advancement League, a proud and longstanding Aboriginal rights organisation in Melbourne's north. The hall was so full it was standing room only. It was a truly significant moment for our country, one seeped in optimism and hope for a better future for all Australians, for a country in which we can all live happy, healthy lives with equal access to employment and education opportunities.

Tragically, but not unexpectedly, there have been significant and damaging consequences from the neglect of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over the last decade by the former government. The 2023 Closing the gap report sets out the truth of the matter: the gaps are widening.

As I have spoken about in this chamber, I remember sitting in a classroom when I was 15 or 16 years old and the teacher talking about the Closing the gap statistics. As one of the only Koori kids in the classroom, it felt like the teacher was painting a picture of my future as a First Nations person, with dire statistics on health and life expectancy for First Nations people, for my people. It's hard to articulate what it is like to read about and listen to someone tell you that you're going to die 10 years younger than your peers, that you are less likely to finish high school and go to university and that I was more likely to be unemployed and have a chronic health condition than my peers. But this was the reality 20 years ago. Not much has changed since, and it's an absolute shame that we must continue to speak the truth now.

While the opposition leader seems to think that public policy doesn't have any unique impact on the lives of Aboriginal people in this country, I certainly beg to differ. If you need more proof about why the Voice to Parliament is needed, this is it: it's 10 years later and the statistics are getting worse. The proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children assessed as developmentally on track in all five domains of Australian Early Development Census has dropped from 55 per cent to 35.2 per cent. The target for healthy birth weights for babies has gone from being on track to not on track. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people deserve better.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians need a seat at the table to work in partnership with government to come up with the solutions for our families. This is one of the only things that has proven that the evidence is there to suggest that positive outcomes are possible and can only happen when we have a seat at the table. I am proud to be part of a government that is committed to closing the gap—and not just on an ad hoc way or when there's opportunity to cause division to win some political points, like the Peter Dutton opposition. I am proud to be part of a government that is committed to doing things differently, and we're just getting started on this work.

In our first budget, back in October 2022, the Albanese Labor government committed over $900 million to closing the gap. Earlier this week the Minister for Social Services announced more than $50 million of funding to help address the overrepresentation of First Nations children in out-of-home care by five per cent by 2031. It's something I'm deeply passionate about as somebody who has worked in the sector. This includes a delivery of innovative, community-led ideas from First Nations communities to design service models that better support families and supports organisations and workers to be better able to deliver prevention and early intervention services that are culturally safe, trauma and healing informed. We're determined to close the gap.

We will continue to deliver on the Closing the Gap implementation plan in partnership with the Coalition of Peaks and state and territory governments. We will continue to target investment where it will make a real and tangible difference to the lives of Aboriginal people.

I want to acknowledge the Aboriginal organisations around the country, and particularly those from my home state of Victoria, who shoulder the burden of this work. I want to thank each of you for your tireless advocacy for our mob. Thank you. To really and meaningfully move forward as a country, we must accept the generous invitation set out in the Uluru Statement from the Heart to walk together for a better future for all Australians.


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