Senate debates

Tuesday, 13 June 2017


Indigenous Affairs

8:12 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

The last fortnight has seen some celebrations in this place, including National Reconciliation Week and the anniversary of the Mabo decision. It was fantastic to have the government table the Mabo statement today and to have of Senator Patrick Dodson respond to that statement on behalf of Labor in this chamber. We have also had the anniversary of the Bringing them home report and the 20th anniversary of the Healing Foundation and, of course, the all-important the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum.

Today in this place with some mixed emotions we have been debating the Native Title Act. For me and for those claimants who appealed that decision in Western Australia and who have largely been forgotten by people in this chamber—instead the native title stuff is focused elsewhere—what we are seeing with that native title claim, particularly in relation to Western Australia, is that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this country continue to fight from a legacy created through injustices.

But I want to focus tonight on the celebrations of Mabo, the Bringing them home report, the 20th anniversary of the Healing Foundation and particularly the 1967 referendum. All of these events have played a part and continue to play a part in the recognition, the healing and the hope for our future, as we recognise and respect our first nations people as first Australians.

The first significant step started, in my view and in the view of many, with the 1967 referendum. The referendum was the result of a prevailing movement for political change, to make change in the laws that had for almost a century discriminated against or not recognised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The referendum received the highest yes vote ever recorded in a federal referendum. Almost 91 per cent of Australians voted for change—something we can all be proud of!

Tonight, in the spirit of reconciliation, I am proud to read a poem written by Nola Gregory in April this year. Nola and I share something special in the love of Charlee Chmielewski, our shared 'granny'. Nola grew up in Geraldton and has family ties to the Kija and Bardi people in the north of Western Australia. Nola is passionate about poetry and each year she writes about the different themes for National Reconciliation Week. When former PM Kevin Rudd gave the apology to the stolen generations, Nola wrote the most beautiful, heartfelt poem about that apology. Nola believes that poems are the way into a person's spirit and can deliver messages that sometimes we all fail to do. Nola wholeheartedly believes the 1967 referendum is an issue all Australian's need to be aware of. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people still struggle to be recognised, and Nola hopes the poem encourages positive change in our community and nations. This is Nola's poem:

Sailed their boats

Up to our shores

Aimed their guns

And made their laws

No man’s land

Was what they said

Did not want to count

One single head

As flora and fauna

We were seen

Did not have a say

In our own dreams

British subjects

Was the term they used?

Wasn’t even asked

For our important views

Alien citizens

On our own sand

Treated as foreigners

By treacherous hands

Our rights were shunned

Our lives controlled

We watched in sadness

Saw it all unfold

Then came a sound

Like a rushing tide

Throughout the land

It rolled far and wide

And one by one

The voices all rose

In an almighty crescendo

We watched them grow

A referendum

A deciding vote

To take count of us

Bring healing and hope

Set the wheels in motion

And opened the door

"The Aboriginal question"

The changing of laws

The scars run deep

Within our lives

But we will fight on

For justice with pride

And hope one day soon

We will stand hand in hand

As we press for equality

In our Great Australian Land

Thank you, Nola Gregory.

8:17 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to also speak on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues, but first I want to acknowledge the beautiful poem that we just heard in this place. I want to speak about the 20th anniversary of the Bringing them home report on 26 May, National Sorry Day, and the recently released report by the Healing Foundation Bringing them home 20 years on: an action plan for healing.

In 1997 the landmark Bringing them home report was tabled in our parliament. This report was the result of a national inquiry that investigated the forced removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families. For many of these people, it was the first time that their experiences of being forcibly removed from their families—it was the first time they could share these experiences. It was also the first time that it was acknowledged in a formal way that this occurred. This acknowledgment marked a critical moment in the healing journey of many stolen generation members. Acknowledgement was and is a key part of the healing process for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, but acknowledgment goes hand in hand with action. Two decades on, the majority of the Bringing them homereport recommendations have not been implemented. For many, this has created additional stress and trauma.

The time for action should have started 20 years ago. It is devastating to think about the lives that could have been changed if successive governments had acted on and implemented the original report's recommendations. Yes, we did have the national apology, and I would be one of the first to say that was fantastic. It was extremely important to our nation and of course to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and for healing. But there have been no reparations. There is still disadvantage. There has been a lack of actions on these recommendations. Tragically, we are seeing more Aboriginal children than ever going into out-of-home care.

As the Healing Foundation report says:

The anniversary presents an opportunity to reset—to secure sustainable support to help reduce the impact of trauma. This report makes three key recommendations:

1. A comprehensive assessment of the contemporary and emerging needs of Stolen Generations members, including needs-based funding and a financial redress scheme.

2. A national study into intergenerational trauma to ensure that there is real change for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the future.

3. An appropriate policy response that is based on the principles underlying the 1997 Bringing Them Home report.

It is really galling that the third recommendation in a 20th anniversary report has to be 'an appropriate key response based on principles' underlying a 1997 report. It is frankly unbelievable that we could not come up with an appropriate response to a highly regarded landmark report in 20 years. Not only do we have the comprehensive Bringing them home report and its recommendations; in 2014 we also had a Senate inquiry into out-of-home care—to investigate, among other things, drivers in the increase in the number of children placed into out-of-home care, the outcomes for these children and the best practice solutions for supporting children in vulnerable family situations, including early intervention. The committee was 'deeply concerned' about the evidence that most out-of-home care placements are 'not safe or stable' and that 'certain systemic factors that contribute to the high number of children entering and remaining in out-of-home care' are not being addressed:

In particular, the lack of family support services means there is limited scope for at-risk parents to get the support they need to build safe and resilient families for their children.

Last year, a very important report from Family Matters was their Roadmap report, which outlined evidence based pathways to the policy and practice changes needed to secure improved safety and wellbeing outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. It paves the way to keeping Aboriginal children safe with their families in community and culture. It is imperative that the government listen to Aboriginal communities' voices and takes action on this Roadmap. But, yet again, the government has failed to respond and it has not implemented the recommendations.

When the Senate report into out-of-home care was tabled in 2015, Aboriginal children made up less than five per cent of the general population yet made up 35 per cent of the children in out-of-home care nationally. In my home state of Western Australia at that time it was just over 50 per cent of the children in care. When the Bringing them home report was released on 1997, one in every five children living in out-of-home care were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. Today, 20 years on, it is one in three. What further evidence do you need that we have not been implementing those recommendations. Quite frankly, I find this an unbelievable development. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been warning for years now that there is another stolen generation or lost generation happening, and it is happening on our watch. Australia's first peoples are so sick of government ignoring evidence based recommendations on how to make things better. It is time we got on with the work that needs to be done. We cannot stand by until we get to 2037 when another report has to be tabled or handed down by a group of people who are passionate about these issues to yet another group of politicians, yet that is the way we are heading. It is imperative that the government listen to Aboriginal communities, Aboriginal voices and take action. We must be a catalyst in this place for reviewing and revising a somewhat stalled healing journey and that is certainly what we heard at the breakfast held for the anniversary of the Bringing Them Home report in this place.

Let all sides of politics know that we do not want this 20th anniversary report to be gathering dust on a Parliament House shelf. Too many reports on positive change for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have had that fate, and we should not stand by and let this happen again. It is a long journey to healing for the stolen generations to address the wrongs of the past, but we need to keep doing it. At the moment, as the report from the Healing Foundation points out, this lack of action re-traumatises and causes further stress to the stolen generations as does the lack of action on ensuring that we reduce the number of Aboriginal children going into out-of-home care. We should listen. We should put in place and implement the recommendations of the reports that have been available for years and years. We have the guidelines and the evidence, and people are crying out for a change. As a nation, we owe it to the members of the stolen generations to ensure this happens. I urge the Prime Minister to listen, as he said he would, to the people who are offering these important solutions.

We still have appalling numbers of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care, terrible incarceration rates and great disadvantage. Rather than paternalistic ideologically-driven policy approaches taken by repeated governments that embed poverty while not making progress in closing the gap, we have to listen to Aboriginal people and the evidence, and continue the healing journey. That healing journey needs to include, must include reparations—as the point was made in the Healing Foundation's Bringing Them Home 20 years on: an action plan for healing. I end on a quote from the report:

There is no way of knowing what the contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander world would look like had there been a concerted effort to implement the Bringing Them Home vision for the future.

… … …

Mothers still live in fear that their children are going to be taken from them.

… … …

The laws of those times are still impacting on our people today ... it is time to finish this business