Senate debates

Wednesday, 13 September 2006

Questions without Notice

Indigenous Affairs

2:43 pm

Photo of Andrew BartlettAndrew Bartlett (Queensland, Australian Democrats) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Indigenous Affairs. Is the minister aware that, today, in Parliament House, Bishop Saibo Mabo, the Deputy Chair of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Executive Commission of the National Council of Churches, launched the latest component of the ‘Make Indigenous poverty history’ campaign? Does the minister support the call of the National Council of Churches for the federal government to adopt the Millenium Development Goals to apply specifically to Australia, so that, as has been done for poverty-stricken people in other continents, the goal can be set to lift Indigenous Australians out of poverty by 2015?

Photo of Rod KempRod Kemp (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for the Arts and Sport) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Bartlett, for that question. Senator Bartlett, I think any fair-minded Australian viewing the situation of many of our Indigenous people would feel that major action had to be taken. And one of the things that I think has puzzled most Australians over the years is that the position of many people in the Indigenous community has not improved. This government, above all, is very concerned about that. You would have been aware, Senator, of the great lead, I believe, that Minister Brough is taking on this particular issue.

The thing that surprises me as an observer of the scene is how little help we get in these issues from the Labor Party, from your party and from the Greens. But we get a lot of somewhat pious comments every time this government tries to take action in this area. You will be very much aware, Senator, that a recent bill that went through this parliament dealing with providing rights to property in Indigenous towns was vigorously opposed by you and the Labor Party.

I see a government that is greatly concerned about how we can deal with the problems of Indigenous policy. I see a government that is very productive in coming forward with programs to address what are very serious issues. We would always hope for bipartisanship in this area, but the truth is that, every time I have had any involvement in this area and in putting bills through the parliament, I am often struck—

Photo of Robert RayRobert Ray (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We noticed this over Mabo.

Photo of Rod KempRod Kemp (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for the Arts and Sport) Share this | | Hansard source

You treat this in a cavalier way, Senator Ray, and that is the problem with the Labor Party: basically, you treat these things in a very cavalier fashion. You are typical of the problem of Labor, to be quite frank. Let me tell you that this government is very concerned to lift the position of Indigenous people. What I would urge you to do is to provide as much support as you can to the very important initiatives that Minister Brough and others have made in this area.

Photo of Andrew BartlettAndrew Bartlett (Queensland, Australian Democrats) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I remind the minister of my actual question, which was whether the government would adopt the Millennium Development Goals to apply them specifically to Australia so that we apply the same goals to our own people who are in extreme poverty—Indigenous Australians—as we are signing up to for people in other countries. If the minister could answer the question, it would be appreciated. Is the minister seriously suggesting that the government’s action in reducing the rights of traditional owners in the Northern Territory as to what happens on their land is going to take them out of poverty? Is it possible for the minister, for once, to answer a question about the outrageous inequality faced by Indigenous Australians without resorting to cheap, petty partisan point-scoring?

Photo of Rod KempRod Kemp (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for the Arts and Sport) Share this | | Hansard source

Having been the victim, on many occasions, of cheap, petty point-scoring from you, Senator Bartlett, I am astonished that you would make that comment. Governments by themselves cannot fully address many of the complex issues behind Indigenous disadvantage. The whole of the Australian community, as I mentioned, are looking for ways to make a difference. But the churches themselves need to be prepared to tackle the hard issues and what they can contribute to turning the situation around. I think that some of us would like the churches to speak out more vigorously on the issues of violence and child abuse, and that is a subject that cannot be avoided if you are talking about Indigenous poverty.

The Democrats are very good at trying to cast blame and aspersions on others. The truth is that you have been in this chamber for a very long period of time, and the contribution you have made and the initiatives you have taken to effectively address this problem have, I might say, been minimal. (Time expired)