Senate debates

Wednesday, 8 March 2023


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

10:54 am

Photo of Perin DaveyPerin Davey (NSW, National Party, Shadow Minister for Water) Share this | Hansard source

I, too, acknowledge the comments that have already been put to the chamber regarding Closing the Gap. As Senator Smith said, it is more than 15 years since the Commonwealth and a coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community controlled peak organisations, state and territory governments, and the Australian Local Government Association came together and agreed that more needed to be done and entered into the Closing The Gap partnership.

Much has been done over the years, and there have been very good intentions to work together to close the gap. But unfortunately the latest report shows that, while in some respects we are making progress, in others we are not and in others still we have actually gone backwards. For example, while 89.9 per cent of Indigenous babies are now born with a healthy birth weight and 96.7 per cent of Indigenous children are enrolled in preschool, only 34.4 per cent of those children in school are developmentally on track or school-ready. These are not good statistics, and the statistics show that there are still too many children in out-of-home care, too many suicides, too many adults in prison, too many poor results in the health statistics and too many unemployed or underemployed people.

But while everyone is focusing on what we're not doing and the areas we're missing, what I'd really like to do is focus on what is actually happening on the ground in small communities or being done by individuals and groups that are making a difference in their communities, because from that we can learn, and we can actually try to progress to close the gap. For example, there are so many Indigenous people at the moment who don't have their birth certificates. There is an organisation based out of Glen Innes in northern New South Wales called Pathfinders National Aboriginal Birth Certificate Program. The organisation gets no government funding, yet they work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to help them to access their birth certificates at no cost, because, without a birth certificate, you can't get social services, you can't enrol in school, and you can't vote and have your voice heard. So, this program is so vitally important.

Through the hard work that Pathfinders are doing to help progress this—and I acknowledge Rosemary Curtis OAM for her work with Pathfinders—they've noticed other gaps that they're trying to fill, such as converting a former villa in Armidale into independent living accommodation for young people who are in care and purchasing a disused hotel in Glen Innes to convert to a rural foyer and a centre for education and employment options. These sorts of things will help close the gap in those communities, and they're doing it with no government funding.

Another important program is Blackrock Industries. Steve Fordham, who was invited to this year's job summit, has managed to get employment for 111 Indigenous men who were incarcerated. Of those 111, Steve has seen only one put back into prison. It is a success story, but unfortunately his funding ceased on 1 July 2022, and he's been told that his program is not eligible for the new Indigenous Skills and Employment Program. But we will be looking to see if we can rectify that.

Another fantastic program, in Dubbo—RED.I—is changing lives. I spoke in this chamber about Tyron Cochrane and Jolie Orcher, whom RED.I helped to get to New Zealand to compete in Golden Shears. RED.I also purchased the Wilcannia store, and they've seen the purchase of clean fruit and vegetables go from 50 kilograms a week to 500 kilograms a week in this largely Indigenous community. They are employing their own people, they are providing career pathways for people, they are working with people to get them housing. These are programs that will help close the gap.


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