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- Start of Business
- GOVERNOR-GENERAL’S SPEECH
- WORLD YOUTH DAY
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
- DISTINGUISHED VISITORS
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
- DISTINGUISHED VISITORS
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
Mr Brian Burke
(Nelson, Dr Brendan, MP, Rudd, Kevin, MP)
(Ripoll, Bernie, MP, Swan, Wayne, MP)
Mr Brian Burke
(Nelson, Dr Brendan, MP, Rudd, Kevin, MP)
(Burke, Anna, MP, Elliot, Justine, MP)
(Turnbull, Malcolm, MP, Swan, Wayne, MP)
(Turnour, Jim, MP, Bowen, Chris, MP)
Newcastle Electorate: Roads
(Truss, Warren, MP, Albanese, Anthony, MP)
(Vamvakinou, Maria, MP, Smith, Stephen, MP)
Investing in Australia
(Robb, Andrew, MP, Smith, Stephen, MP)
(Grierson, Sharon, MP, Crean, Simon, MP)
(Bishop, Julie, MP, Gillard, Julia, MP)
(Trevor, Chris, MP, Ferguson, Martin, MP)
Days and Hours of Meeting
(Scott, Bruce, MP, Rudd, Kevin, MP)
(Bradbury, David, MP, O’Connor, Brendan, MP)
Vocational Education and Training
(Smith, Anthony, MP, Rudd, Kevin, MP)
Bombing of Darwin: Anniversary
(Hale, Damian, MP, Griffin, Alan, MP)
- Mr Brian Burke
- FUEL PRICES
- QUESTIONS TO THE SPEAKER
- PERSONAL EXPLANATIONS
- SPEAKER’S PANEL
- MINISTERIAL STATEMENTS
- GOVERNOR-GENERAL’S SPEECH
- Paradise Point Bowls Club
- National Primary Industry Centre for Science Education
- Cowan Electorate: Blackmore Primary School
- Shortland Electorate: Homelessness
- Local Grants Scheme
- Ballarat Electorate: Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial
- Start of Business
APOLOGY TO AUSTRALIA’S INDIGENOUS PEOPLES
- Ruddock, Philip, MP
- Thomson, Kelvin, MP
- Truss, Warren, MP
- Plibersek, Tanya, MP
- Stone, Dr Sharman, MP
- Hayes, Chris, MP
- Slipper, Peter, MP
- Gibbons, Steve, MP
- Hunt, Gregory, MP
- Ferguson, Martin, MP
- Keenan, Michael, MP
- Combet, Greg, MP
- Ciobo, Steven, MP
- Melham, Daryl, MP
- Scott, Bruce, MP
- Albanese, Anthony, MP
- Hull, Kay, MP
- George, Jennie, MP
- Morrison, Scott, MP
- Grierson, Sharon, MP
- Pyne, Chris, MP
Monday, 18 February 2008
Mr MARTIN FERGUSON (Minister for Resources and Energy and Minister for Tourism) (5:57 PM) —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker Sidebottom. I appreciate that warm welcome and congratulate you on your election to high office as one of the deputy speakers. It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to address this motion—an apology by the Australian government to Australia’s Indigenous people. For the great majority of us who are fortunate to be in this parlilament, 13 February was a proud day for Australia. I think the truth of the matter is that we all, collectively and individually, failed to estimate and appreciate how important this event was, not just in Parliament House but right across the broad spectrum of the Australia community. We had an especially important opportunity to actually meet with the people in the lead-up to the apology on 13 February and join with them, after the apology by the Prime Minister, to celebrate the event. It was not until late that evening, when I had a look at the late news, that I appreciated how many people were on the lawns of Parliament House. They were out the front, watching the big screen and gratefully saying thanks for this momentous achievement by the Australian parliament.
We should remind ourselves that similar events occurred all around Australia. In Federation Square, Melbourne, in Martin Place, Sydney, in regional communities and in workplaces, people were glued to televisions because they knew this event was historically important for Australia and for where we will go in the 21st century. In that context, I have a special responsibility to build on the symbolic nature of the apology. As a new minister, I have been doing a lot of reflecting about the weight of responsibility my position carries and how I can contribute personally, through my work as a minister, to build on the apology of 13 February. All ministers are very conscious of their personal obligation to create a legacy in their portfolio area that advances the Australian community and the nation generally but also in particular creates special opportunities for Indigenous Australians, who have been left behind far too long.
That is important to me because I first went to the Northern Territory in March 1977 and had an opportunity to meet a lot of significant Indigenous people who have made a major contribution to the Northern Territory. People I have worked with over the years include the Clarke brothers, Jim and Bingy Clarke; Ella Ahmat, a long-time worker at Darwin Hospital; Lenny Cole, who worked on the Darwin council; and Denise Ahsan, a key representative of my old union in the Northern Territory and a hospital worker. Then we have got those more in the public domain such as Tracker Tilmouth, David Ross, Galarrwuy Yunupingu and Norman Fry, just to name a few, who basically saw this apology as creating a foundation for the future.
I think we have now got to move on and turn the page to actually create a process of practical reconciliation in Australia. That has got to build on the symbolic reconciliation of the apology moved and passed in parliament by acclamation, which is now in the record of the Australian parliament and the Australian community forever. It also has to be a legacy that makes sure Indigenous Australians share in the benefits of Australia’s great economic opportunities, especially those brought forward by the current resources boom. They should share not only in the growing wealth and prosperity as a result of that but also in other areas of my portfolio such as tourism, which is very strong in rural, remote and regional Australia. Across all industries in Australia, there are opportunities that have to be grasped and driven home in terms of guaranteeing a better future for our Indigenous community.
I simply say that in terms of the facts—and I want to put some of these on the record—we have all got something to answer for. No side of politics can actually say that they have done the best in the past. We have all got to learn from our mistakes. I also say that the private sector has got a very important role to play in delivering these better outcomes because they are out there investing the money and they are the ones who largely employ people in Australia. We have got to create the environment and the programs that facilitate these economic opportunities for our Indigenous community.
We are also only going to make progress when we think about some of the educational and health indicators. I think it is shameful that the life expectancy of Indigenous people is around 17 years lower than that for the total Australian population, that kidney disease is 10 times as high in Indigenous people and that diabetes is three times as common. It is also shameful that one in five 15-year-old Indigenous teenagers are not in school and that half as many Indigenous kids as non-Indigenous kids continue on to year 12 and post secondary qualifications. Achievement rates for those at school are also far below the national average. More than 20 per cent of year 3 Indigenous children do not achieve the national benchmark compared to less than 10 per cent of non-Indigenous year 3 children. These figures clearly deteriorate as our children advance to the higher years of school because of a lack of foundational opportunities on the literacy and numeracy front.
Then we go to issues of employment. The labour force participation rate for Indigenous people stands at just 58.5 per cent, about three-quarters of that for non-Indigenous people. At a time when the country is at almost full employment and crying out for workers, the unemployment rate is three times higher for Indigenous people than for non-Indigenous Australians. We have clearly failed Indigenous people in health, education, employment and housing over many years.
I therefore suggest to the chamber that it is imperative for us, as a community, to address the low employment participation rate for Indigenous Australians. We are not going to resolve these problems in Indigenous communities until we accept that we need to make progress on that front. Just like Australians in general, Indigenous people define themselves, not only as individuals but as families and communities, by their capacity to work. To make progress on the employment front, you have also got to make progress on the educational front. Education and skills are the keys to employability. If you do not have confidence in your ability to work and deliver for your family then that creates major problems in local communities. So education is clearly critical. I believe it is the foundation that creates the opportunities to overcome some of the other problems being faced today in Indigenous communities. That requires leadership at a local community level and a state government level and also the federal government working in a cooperative way with all tiers of government and the private sector to actually make progress on this front.
That is why the Prime Minister has correctly promised an education revolution, and nowhere is it more important than in our Indigenous communities—communities that, in some instances, have known little else other than intergenerational unemployment, the welfare cycle and social dysfunction, despite the best endeavours and well-meaning intentions of successive governments. At this point in time let us seize the opportunity; we have never had a better time to do something about this.
As a result of the apology delivered by the Prime Minister last week on 13 February there was a great sense of goodwill in the Australian community to now seize hold of this problem and create real momentum for real change in Australia. We have the economic circumstances to create opportunity for Indigenous Australians to share in our vast wealth and in doing so overcome some of the major social problems that confront those communities. It is known in the Indigenous community that we as a community have now finally come together to recognise the urgency of improving Indigenous outcomes. The apology lays the platform for us to now make real progress and move beyond that symbolic gesture that was outstanding for far too long. In essence they are saying that they accept that the blame game is over, that they want a better future and that they want to be part of the prosperity that exists in Australia and that is being shared by their brothers and sisters and Australians at large.
It is also now acknowledged in the Indigenous community that it is not just about leadership at a government and private sector level; it is also about leadership at a community level. It is also accepted that a lot of that leadership is going to come from the women. A lot of those women, especially the more senior women, now understand. In some instances we have lost a generation of Indigenous people in Australia, and they do not want to see the same occur with respect to their grandchildren. They are prepared to work with government at every level and with the private sector to do the best thing by their grandchildren and to try to create those opportunities to get it right in the future.
The resources, energy and tourism sectors, where my ministerial responsibilities lie, clearly create some of those opportunities. When you just think about it, it is in rural, remote and regional Australia that a lot of the Indigenous communities live. That is where we can get meaningful improvements in education and health and increases in workforce participation so as to lay down the path to a better future for all Indigenous communities and families over the next generations, a path that is so important to Australia at large. Let us try to make sure that we actually do something about this. When you think about it, we have underestimated the importance of the Indigenous community as a key part of the Australian economy. It is not well known that by 2020 every second Australian living north of the Tropic of Capricorn, or above Port Augusta in South Australia, will be of Aboriginal descent. Just think about that. Think about the importance of that to workforce participation in companies in the mining, tourism, pastoral and forestry sectors, to name just a few. More importantly, those companies are prepared to share the burden of assisting government in a new partnership to deliver real outcomes in education and training, health, housing and business.
As I go about my work I regularly sit down with companies and remind them of their responsibilities. But I am pleased to say that a lot of these companies not only know about it but also want to actively do something about it. We have 40 per cent Indigenous employment in places such as Argyle in the north of Western Australia. Clearly, it has been recognised that working together is a good investment in the future of the private sector and it is a good investment in working with government to overcome these key challenges. That is why as a member of the government I will continue to work with the Minerals Council of Australia to build on the memorandum of understanding that was previously signed by the last government to make real progress on this front. This is not about blaming one another; this is about grasping the opportunities, recognising our mistakes and now working as one community to make practical progress on this front.
I simply say this: yes, it is a major challenge but it is one that Australia is equal to. In the same way that we kick goals on the sporting field we have to kick goals at home in a very sustainable way to get real improvements in the lifetime opportunities for our Indigenous communities all around Australia, be they living in capital cities or in rural, remote and regional Australia. Working in partnership programs and with memorandums of understanding with different sectors of the Australian industry is so important because that also means we are using a best practice model and we can teach other businesses about what they can do as stakeholders and how Indigenous people can learn about industry jobs in the mining sector and the forestry sector. It was no different in the past when we used this best practice model to build improvements in productivity and workforce change by creating successful models and then spreading the word throughout the whole Australian community. Stakeholders are part of that, be they government or the private sector.
In conclusion, I actually thought that the apology was exceptionally important. It was delivered with grace and received by the Australian community with open hands. It is now acknowledged that we have to go forward because this is so important not only to our feeling as a community of what is right and decent but also to overcoming what was real challenge to Australia in the 20th century and is now in the 21st century. That is why the Prime Minister was so right when he said at the conclusion of the apology:
Let us turn this page together, Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, government and opposition, Commonwealth and state, and write this new chapter in our nation’s story together. First Australians, First Fleeters and those who first took the oath of allegiance just a few weeks ago—let us grasp this opportunity to craft a new future for this great land, Australia. Mr Speaker, I commend the motion to the House.
The Prime Minister is right. It is a responsibility that we all have to share in, to actually use this historic apology to Australia’s Indigenous people in the past, to say, ‘Yes, we got it wrong in the past.’ We have apologised. Let us walk now hand in hand to do something about the real social and economic problems that exist for our Indigenous community. They will be better for it and so will the Australian community. We will again walk tall in the international community, a community of respect because we have worked out our wrongs and we are now committed to doing something about it. I commend the motion to the House.