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Wednesday, 15 February 2017
Page: 127

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Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (11:47): To begin with I would like to acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples, the traditional owners of the land on which we meet. I pay my respects to elders past and present, and I would also like to acknowledge the Dharug people, the traditional owners of the land that my electorate of Chifley sits upon.

We are once again talking about the Closing the gap report, as we always do this time of year, highlighting how far we have to go within our nation to eliminate Indigenous disadvantage. The Closing the gap report, handed down by the government, showed that federal and state governments were missing the mark in six out of the seven targeted areas. I do not make that remark in any political sense; it just highlights the huge challenge that confronts us all in this space. Having said that, one bright spot was tracking the improvement of Indigenous people finishing year 12, which I was particularly happy to see. The report showed the target to halve the gap in year 12 attainment rates by 2020 was on track. According to the report, nationally, the proportion of Indigenous 20- to 24-year-olds who had achieved year 12 or equivalent had increased from 45.4 per cent in 2008 to 61.5 per cent in 2014-15. In that regard, it is terrific. I also want to pay tribute to the member for Barton, given her presence in the chamber today. The member for Barton, prior to entering the world of politics, was an educator and helped many young people in our area teaching in Lethbridge Park, within electorate of Chifley. I want to take note of that and thank her for what she has done for young people in our part of Western Sydney.

Fortunately, we have had some success in one regard, but in other areas the Closing the gap report show we have a long way to go. For example, in child mortality, over the longer term the child mortality rate declined and the gap narrowed. But while mortality rates have declined, we still have that gap persist. We need to do more. The goal of eliminating the life expectancy gap by 2031 is simply not on track. This needs to be addressed.

The target to halve the gap in employment by 2018 is also not on track. While there has been an increase in Indigenous employment rates since 1994, there has, sadly, been a decline since 2008. To take a recent snapshot from 2014-15, the Indigenous employment rates are at about 48.4 per cent, compared with 72.6 per cent for non-Indigenous Australians.

A new target aiming to close the gap in school attendance by 2018 has not improved between 2015 and 2016. The attendance rate for Indigenous students is 83.4 per cent compared to 93.1 per cent for non-Indigenous students. The target to halve the gap in reading and numeracy by 2018 is also not on track. According to the latest data, only year 9 numeracy is on track. Reading and numeracy across years 3, 5 and 7 are off track, and reading for year 9 is also off track.

Labor is also calling for two more important targets to be included in the Closing the gap report in future years: justice and out-of-home care targets. According to the Deputy Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Robynne Quiggin , Indigenous adults are 13 times more likely to be incarcerated than the general population, and juveniles are 24 times more likely to be incarcerated. These are stunning figures. It is an appalling statistic that we have to work much harder to improve upon. High levels of incarceration just ruin communities and put unbearable stress on families. The quality of life of many Aboriginal people, especially young people, depends on improving that statistic.

The second target Labor has proposed is reducing the number of Aboriginal kids in out-of-home care. The Secretariat for National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care recently highlighted the shocking reality that one in three kids in statutory out-of-home care are Indigenous. Indigenous children are nearly 10 times more likely to be removed by child protection authorities than non-Indigenous kids. Frankly, we just cannot let that continue.

While we are on the topic of justice, we also have to think about reparations in a very serious way. So many of the Stolen Generation are still living with real and burning pain, and the pain of having their history rejected and their families divided is very real. State governments have already been working towards reparations for families who are deeply hurt and the Leader of the Opposition yesterday called for a serious national discussion about what the Commonwealth can do in this area, because without reparations I frankly do not think that reconciliation is entirely complete.

On a policy level and in local communities, how we go about reducing these gaps and pursuing equality is vitally important. We cannot view or treat these issues as merely another problem to be solved. This is not crude mass or just policy in theory; this is about fundamentally improving the lives of individuals—people who have their own goals and aspirations—which is why the approach to reducing disadvantage has to be collaborative. It must be led, not imposed upon those affected.

Right now, the sad truth is that Aboriginal Australians are more likely to be incarcerated, less likely to attend preschool, less likely to own their own home and less likely to find full-time work. Frankly, we do have a long way to go to improve on those differences and we do need to rely on the advice, perspective and leadership of people who have lived through that inequality and have ideas about how to fix it.

The Blacktown city local government area, which covers large portions of the electorate of Chifley, has the largest urban Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population in New South Wales; something I am hugely and profoundly proud of. The Indigenous population of just over 8,000 people makes up 2.7 per cent of our local population, compared to 1.2 per cent in greater Sydney and 2.5 per cent across New South Wales. Our population can be traced back to the 1960s, when large numbers of people were given government housing in Mount Druitt. Many who moved there were part of the Stolen Generation, and they had been removed from their families because they were Aboriginal. Others moved there after living on government-controlled reserves.

When it comes to how we address Aboriginal disadvantage in Australia, I think about the challenges as they are lived within our local community. Certainly there is a lot that is being done, and in the time that I have I want to congratulate lots of great community organisations. For example, Butucarbin Aboriginal Corporation, which is doing incredibly important work in helping local Indigenous people find their feet within our community. They have facilitated and coordinated community programs and activities that help families, children, young people, older people and other individuals to improve and develop their skills through inclusive activities—things such as family weekends that have been organised for up to 90 participants to build a sense of community. There is the Kuring homework club, where mentors and volunteers attend every Tuesday night and provide transport and tutoring for students—hugely important. There are communities barbeques at Nurragingy Reserve—again, building a sense of community by bringing in 350 local kids. There are mothers groups, disability support groups and formal training programs through TAFE—all things that are vitally important in giving a sense of self-determination and building community. They were also recipients of grants—for example, the Chifley stronger communities grant—but provide for themselves as well through other fundraising methods.

The other group I want to pay tribute to is the Marrin Weejali Aboriginal Corporation that is working hard to tackle disadvantage in our community. After the Closing the gap report came down, they said there was indeed a long way to go in achieving the targets. I want to just highlight some of their programs which include the health outreach program, where every month about 20 providers provide services to locals—services they would not normally have to access, including blood screening, an optometrist service, check-ups and other services. They also have a strong employment and training outreach program and a well established productivity boot camp. Other activities include the Doonside Koori Outreach, which includes a men's group for bringing people together, financial counselling and legal services, and women's legal help.

I also give a shout out to the Mt Druitt Learning Ground that is helping young Aboriginal kids in our area get a fresh start and improve their education. There are many groups in my area that are making contributions and I hope they forgive me for any omissions, but I do want to congratulate the work that they are all doing in helping Aboriginal communities in Western Sydney to achieve all that they want.