Senate debates

Wednesday, 8 March 2023


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

11:32 am

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development) Share this | Hansard source

r McKENZIE (—) (): As the Leader of the Nationals in the Senate, I rise to add my contribution to this important issue of closing the gap and acknowledge the Prime Minister's statement on the anniversary of the National Apology. Australia has had a rich and complex history, a history marked with adversity and struggle for many Australians, including our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. We are one of the most culturally diverse nations on earth, and I am pleased to see so many people recognising and embracing the connection to the land we live on and the culture of our First Nations people.

The anniversary of the National Apology gives us the opportunity to reflect on past injustices, to grieve with those we have left behind and to take account of where we are today. It has been 56 years since the 1967 referendum, 47 years since the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, 31 years since the Mabo decision and 15 years since the National Apology. These pages are marked in history as significant progress in closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. I would also like to acknowledge that these achievements are made without a bureaucratic voice but through a growing number of Aboriginal voices in this place and increasing embedded engagement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in our democratic institutions right across our country.

The Nationals welcome the release of the government's 2023 Closing the Gap Implementation Plan and we welcome the Prime Minister's promise of more than $68 million over two years for support to women and children experiencing family, domestic and sexual violence, and more than $21 million over five years to support families impacted by violence. We note with great interest the $150 million over four years for the National Water Grid Fund to support First Nations water infrastructure and provide safe and reliable water for remote and regional Indigenous communities. The government's record on water policy and infrastructure leaves many in doubt about the effectiveness of this government's commitment.

We welcome the Commonwealth's contribution to a one-year partnership with the Northern Territory government to accelerate the building of new remote housing, but the Nationals know that a one-year commitment for important infrastructure like housing does not go far enough, nor does it recognise the life cycle of housing construction and asset maintenance. Anyone who lives in regional and remote communities across Australia understands that it is housing maintenance that is the most challenging issue in rural and remote Aboriginal communities.

We welcome the commitment to boost on-country education for remote First Nations students and support for boarding for rural and remote students. I again call on the government to support the Yipirinya School in Alice Springs and the funding commitment we made in the election to build a boarding facility for kids coming from town camps to access education in language at Alice Springs. As minister, I was able to broker the historic Barkly Regional Deal between the Barkly Regional Council, the then Gunner Territory government and the federal government, in the wake of the rape of a two-year-old in Tennant Creek. Sadly, whilst many of the infrastructure projects have been completed, the one measure of that regional deal, which was to map the provision of services into that community between all levels of government, find the gaps and then service the gaps so that we do this better, in partnership, is the one thing that hasn't been done. It was one of the cheapest things in that whole deal, so I really commend to the current federal government, the Northern Territory government and the Barkly Regional Council to complete that work for the benefit of the whole Barkly region.

The Nationals represent more Indigenous citizens than any other political party in this place. We understand the very real issues facing them and have a particular understanding of remoteness. We will continue to be a strong voice for Indigenous people, and we welcome the recognition of the apology today in the Senate.


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