Wednesday, 8 March 2023
Closing the Gap, National Apology to the Stolen Generations: 15th Anniversary
These are complicated and sometimes sensitive matters, and I'd like to acknowledge all the contributions that have been made—varying as they may be—across the chamber. When you look at Australia's success—and we have been a very successful country—Australia has not been a good country, in broad terms, for Indigenous people. That is a fact. In terms of the representation that I seek to offer the people of New South Wales in this chamber, in New South Wales we have the largest Indigenous community in Australia. It's a community that I try to engage with, and it is a community which is spread right across our community, ranging from remote western New South Wales to up and down the coast. There is also a heavily urbanised population in Central and Western Sydney.
I indicated in my first speech to this place that I would engage on these issues because I regarded them as very important to our country's soul. I don't think we have made the progress that it was imagined would be the case when the initial apology was issued some 15 years ago. Having said that, I think it was good that when the apology was issued there was some attempt to address those issues within an institutional framework. But, as has been well documented, that initial framework was driven by bureaucrats with insufficient input from the community.
What has happened in the past few years is that, under the coalition and the Labor Party, there's been a much greater effort to put the communities' requests at the vanguard of the Closing the Gap agenda. Only two years ago, there was a significant rewriting of the Closing the Gap framework, and we can see from the latest report issued by the Productivity Commission that there has been some progress in relation to babies being born at a healthy birth weight and children being enrolled in preschool. But of course there have also been some disappointing results in relation to imprisonment, and, as has been referred to by many of the speakers in this debate, there has been a very disappointing position when it comes to children being removed from their homes. That is a great shame, and that is something that we ought to work on with vigour.
It's been very clear to me that over these past 250 years paternalism has failed completely, and that is one of the reasons that I have been of the view that the Voice was a concept worthy of very detailed consideration. One of the reasons that has come into my mind recently as I've travelled around regional New South Wales is that the country needs new institutions. We need new institutions to help close the gap because, particularly in remote and regional parts of Australia, the communities have not been given the opportunity to participate in decision-making about service delivery on the ground. That is why I believe that, as part of the detail that has been sought from the government about the Voice plans, it is very important that we understand exactly how the local and regional voice structures will work, because I think they will be key to making improvements on the ground.
When you speak to people in communities about what they are looking for from government, it is very common to hear things like: 'Well, we want to participate in the judgements that are made about our community. We want to have a say in service delivery.' It might be Aboriginal medical services. It might be a bus timetable. I think these are the sorts of things that, if done properly, could make a real difference over the long run. So many Indigenous people in these communities say to me, 'There was a program that was about to work and it was abolished by a government,' or, 'It was doing good things and it disappeared.' There has not been enough considered decision-making, and the whole point of this exercise, of course, is to ensure that we move to a shared decision-making model which is community led, because we know that paternalism has failed.
So I always welcome an opportunity to make a contribution on these issues. I look forward to participating in the debate to be held later this year in relation to the Voice.