Senate debates

Thursday, 19 March 2015


National Close the Gap Day

7:19 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Today on National Close the Gap day, just when we thought the Prime Minister had reached rock bottom with his insulting comments about 'lifestyle choices' in relation to homeland communities, he makes a most obnoxious comment to Labor leader Bill Shorten for which he then makes the most lame, insincere withdrawal. But of course we know it is in the nature of the Prime Minister to make insulting comments—to women, to crossbenchers and to countless others. In fact his 'lifestyle choice' is just a recycled nasty comment, because he referred some time ago to those who find themselves homeless as making a lifestyle choice. He makes these comments deliberately, presumably to connect with his rapidly diminishing base. Australians expect more than this from their Prime Minister but unfortunately this Prime Minister has sunk lower and lower with his insulting, hurtful comments. His 'lifestyle' comments play right into the hands of those who think that Aboriginal people are a drain on the national purse, and on National Close the Gap Day we continue to hear from Aboriginal organisations across the country that have lost funding under the government's new failed Aboriginal advancement strategy. The government can shout at Labor all it likes, but the facts are that frontline Aboriginal services across this country have lost funding—they have had their funding cut by the Abbott government.

Today, as a Western Australian, I am proud to say that Perth turned out in its thousands to send a very big, loud and strong message to the Prime Minister and Premier Barnett that homeland communities must not be closed. Western Australians were joined by many thousands of other Australians across the country who also rallied to protest the closure of WA homeland communities. This snap decision to close homeland communities was announced by Colin Barnett without any consultation with those communities, and despite repeated promises and commitments from the Barnett government there still has not been one skerrick of consultation with Aboriginal communities about the future of their homes.

The federal government has given WA $90 million to fund services to communities for the next two years—but then what? You would think, if you just listened to the Prime Minister and to Premier Barnett, that WA was a hopeless case. But of course they are wrong. They hold this view about homeland communities and Aboriginal people in general because they are ignorant of what is actually happening.

Just a few weeks ago a landmark deal was struck between Lamboo Station and Yougawalla Services. This deal provides security for the station and the Ngunjiwirri community of around 40 people. Robin Yeeda, the station manager—a Jaru man—said:

By investing in our business we are investing in our people. This means we will be able to grow our operation, providing employment and training and build a better future for our people.

Lamboo is in the remote Kimberley. The station has been transformed since the early 2000s from a struggling lease with limited infrastructure and poor quality cattle. Station infrastructure has been substantially improved, to the point of Lamboo being a viable station. At the end of the sublease deal, the community will be in a strong position to take over management of the whole station—good infrastructure, good quality cattle and good cash flow. This sublease arrangement is a means to an end. It enables the community to invest in itself, its infrastructure and its cattle.

This subleasing model could be a model for other Aboriginal rural businesses in WA to learn from and to help achieve their goals. Praise needs to be given to the corporation. Make no mistake; there is no philanthropic movement in the pastoral industry. This is a deal which the Ngunjiwirri Corporation initiated and took time to strike. They initiated the deal. Often Aboriginal people take the best deal that is offered to them—not in this case. They considered other offers, five in fact, before making their final decision. The pastoral industry is a tough commercial world. This is a good deal for the corporation and the community.

You would think that this would be something the Prime Minister, the Western Australian Premier or even the Western Australian agriculture minister would crow about, but there has been absolute silence about this deal. There is no excuse for this ignorance or silence, as the deal is supported by the Indigenous Landholder Service, a partnership between the state and federal governments, between the Department of Agriculture and Food in Western Australia and the Indigenous Land Corporation, or ILC. But the Premier and the Prime Minister prefer to continue with their slur against Aboriginal people—that somehow we need to help them, that somehow they cannot manage and get on making a life for themselves without some kind of whitefella input. They are wrong, and Lamboo Station is not an isolated case. But there was no media release—nothing. There was absolute silence from the Western Australian government and the federal government. It is because their world view of Aboriginal people is that they are a drain on the public purse.

The Ngunjiwirri example is one of many. There are countless microbusinesses on homeland stations: tourism, food and the list goes on. Again, however, if all you did was listen to Premier Barnett and the Prime Minister, who go on about there being no services and no schools, you would think these community homelands were hopeless—and again you would be wrong. Premier Barnett cannot even give us a list of which communities he is talking about. He cannot be definitive about where the homeland communities are. He has no idea and he has made no effort at all to find out.

Premier Barnett has set up a committee to look at homeland communities. You would think that, in 2015, such a committee would include some Aboriginal leaders or indeed some Aboriginal people from those community homelands. No, the committee is made up of bureaucrats from within his department, and they are sitting in judgement right now on homeland communities in Western Australia. It is not good enough. I am proud to say that today thousands of Western Australians took the time to meet at the state parliament house and let Premier Barnett know in no uncertain terms that homeland communities, whilst they may not be valued by the Prime Minister, are certainly valued by those thousands of Western Australians. That is not to mention all the other Australians who, on Close the Gap Day, took the opportunity to send a very strong message to the Prime Minister and the Premier that their approach is not good enough.

I report sadly that on Close the Gap Day there is a Nyoongar tent embassy on Heirisson Island—the Nyoongar are people from the south-west of Western Australia—protesting homelessness. Many of them do not have homes to go to. Yet I am sure that what we will see in Western Australia, with the harsh response from the police and Premier Barnett, is the eventual removal of those Nyoongar people from Heirisson Island. They have already had their tents confiscated, yet Heirisson Island is recognised as a significant Nyoongar site under the Aboriginal Heritage Act. But in Western Australia, where Aboriginal rights are not really respected, that gives Nyoongar people no rights to occupy Heirisson Island. I am not sure where Premier Barnett thinks those homeless Nyoongar people will go. They will go to another park, another car, another relative. Many of them are the victims of the harsh policies we have in Western Australia. It is an absolute tragedy on Close the Gap Day. As an Australian, I want us to do much better.