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Thursday, 18 June 2009
Page: 6526

Mr HALE (11:32 AM) —I support the comments of the member for Warringah. The Coordinator-General for Remote Indigenous Services Bill 2009 allows for government investment to be prioritised and coordinated to ensure that each priority location has the infrastructure and services that support and sustain healthy social norms so people can reach their potential and communities can thrive. The position of coordinator-general is being established to address the practical problems associated with designing, sequencing and rolling out myriad programs in remote communities. As the member for Warringah mentioned, this position of coordinator-general is important. However, Indigenous communities have waited a long time. There is a sense of worthlessness and despair in many of these communities. The government joins with the opposition in a bipartisan approach to make sure that we bridge the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

The bill makes provisions for the coordinator-general to arrange with the Secretary of the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs for the services of the APS employees from the department to be made available. If the coordinator-general is not satisfied with the response from the head of the agency, the coordinator-general may report the matter to the minister and also the Prime Minister if necessary. This is an important mechanism because too often we see there is too much slippage in programs and the money is not actually getting to where it is most needed in Indigenous communities.

I would like to draw the attention of the House to today’s Age. A young guy by the name of Liam Jurrah is pictured on the front page. He is a traditional man—a Walpiri man—from Yuendumu. Anyone who follows AFL football would know what our Indigenous brothers bring to the game. Some 12 per cent of AFL players are Indigenous and the league is working towards getting that to around 20 per cent by approximately 2020. There is also an aim for four per cent of employees of the AFL to be of Indigenous descent in the near future.

Liam Jurrah’s is an interesting story. He is a boy from Yuendumu. I coached Liam Jurrah when I was coach of the Northern Territory Thunder a couple of years ago. I remember taking Liam to Melbourne. He played at Princes Park—or Optus Oval, depending on who was sponsoring the Carlton ground at the time—and I remember how cold it was. Liam Jurrah, the boy from Yuendumu, really struggled with the cold. He found it very difficult. After a game we would do a rehab session where the guys would go down to the beach at St Kilda. It is quite an interesting spectacle. You see all these guys up to their waists in the sea. The coach and all the coaching staff even went in—I made it compulsory for everyone to go into the sea. From memory, the water was about eight degrees. Liam Jurrah stood there and looked at me as if to say, ‘Coach, please, don’t make me do this.’ I thought at the time that by making Liam Jurrah do that we would lose him from the program, but he hung in there.

Last year, the Collingwood Football Club gave Liam an opportunity to play reserve grade, but he had to go back to Yuendumu for his tribal business. He is a ‘ceremony man’, as they say, and already one of the elders in the community—he is a leader. Liam Jurrah played for Collingwood and went back to Yuendumu, and this year the Melbourne Football Club drafted him in the rookie draft and promoted him to their list. On Friday night, Liam Jurrah plays his first game for the Melbourne Football Club. It is a fantastic story.

I would just like to say that the AFL probably does it better than anyone when it comes to working in Indigenous communities and giving hope to a lot of young Indigenous footballers. Liam Jurrah will run out onto the MCG on Friday night to realise his dream of playing AFL football. The game is against the mighty Essendon, I must add—the side I support. Essendon has a long association with Indigenous Australia. We remember the association that Kevin Sheedy had with Michael Long.

I see that the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs is in the House. I would like to acknowledge her. Last year I had the pleasure of walking with her on the Long Walk with Michael, from Federation Square in Melbourne to the MCG to celebrate Indigenous Australia and what they have contributed to AFL football. What the AFL does in Aboriginal communities is certainly something that government can support and work closely with. I would be very proud. I hope that Essendon beats Melbourne, I must admit, on Friday night. I also hope that Liam Jurrah plays well but he will certainly be a hero in Yuendumu. One of the comments was:

In Yuendumu, this is bigger than going to the moon … somebody’s already been to the moon.

No-one from Yuendumu has ever played AFL football. Good luck to Liam Jurrah.

The challenges are enormous. I have a part-Aboriginal wife and five kids; I have been to Ti Tree and I grew up in places like Katherine; I lived in Maningrida as a four-year-old. A lot of Aboriginal people in communities have got to a point where they have said: ‘Nothing will ever change. There’s no hope for us.’ I welcomed the comments from the member for Warringah because this is bipartisan. Aboriginal people do not need to be a political football. As a nation we certainly need to really address the crisis that has occurred in communities for a number of years.

It started, I suppose, on 13 February last year with the apology. This was a significant moment. People who do not think it was significant are wrong. There are a lot of people within my community from the stolen generation. My mother-in-law was one of those people who were taken away from Tea Tree when she was seven years old, never to see her mother again. She grew up on Melville Island. There was always a worry about compensation. Sure, there are avenues for people to get compensation, but certainly my mother-in-law was just happy with the fact that it had been acknowledged that things were not done properly back in those times. The apology from the Prime Minister on 13 February was certainly well received in my area.

The Coordinator-General will provide information to agencies on obstacles within their areas of responsibility and advise the minister and COAG on the need for systematic change. If the Coordinator-General fails to receive an adequate response from the agency official, this bill allows for the matter to be reported to the head of the relevant Commonwealth, state and territory agencies.

The then Minister for Employment Participation, Brendan O’Connor, came to Darwin and we toured one of my Aboriginal communities in Bagot. We drove around and the minister was quiet. I think he was taken aback with what he saw and how some of these people were living. We had a meeting with the local council. The minister said to me, ‘Should I go around and meet people and say hello?’ I said: ‘Look, with all due respect, Minister, you don’t have to do that. These people have met all politicians.’ They have met former politicians from the other side, in Mal Brough and David Tollner; they have met Damian Hale and Matty Bonson, the local member. They will show a lot of respect. They will stand up, shake hands and say, ‘How are you going?’ and it will be just another white politician who has come to visit. They will go back and sit under the tree and nothing actually changes.

To the credit of the minister, who is in the House today, I had a conversation with her last year and she said, ‘Where do we start?’ We started on housing as an issue. Overcrowding probably leads to a lot of the dysfunction in Indigenous communities, as well as a lot of the health issues, the truancy from school and the inability to go to work. The housing program has been rolled out—some $800 million of housing for the Northern Territory. It is a vital component and starting point. The minister has been very proactive in listening, talking and consulting with communities. It has certainly been appreciated. But the time has come for us as a nation to actually get the results that we need to get in these communities. We have talked about it and we have been here for 240-odd years, and for a lot of that time Indigenous Australian communities have gone backwards. The time for results is now. We cannot continue to muck around, take our time, have inquiries and write reports. It is about making time now for action in Indigenous communities.

I applaud this bill. The Coordinator-General will be the person who can make action happen on the ground where people need it, so that the four-year-old kid does not end up with sickness caused by bad living conditions. Gingivitis in your mouth has a direct association with heart disease. Gingivitis in a four-year-old’s mouth can cause heart disease when they are 45. Already a lot of Indigenous friends of mine have died between the ages of 35 and 40—young men who have died from heart disease at a very young age. It is a challenge.

I notice the member for O’Connor is here. Certainly over his time he has been involved heavily in Indigenous Australia in Western Australia. I acknowledge his commitment to this cause. It is something that goes above politics. It is not about politics at all. This is about our First Australians. Let’s remember: they are the First Australians; they were here before anyone else. They are the longest-living, structured culture in the world. For so long we have looked at them as a problem. We should not look at it like that. We should be embracing Indigenous Australians because they are unique. They bring a unique set of skills; they bring something unique to our country.

It was interesting to hear what the Prime Minister had to say in a conversation I had with him and that he had with us at caucus. After the apology, he went around the world talking to other world leaders. He met with the President of the United States of the time. They begged to differ on a few issues—on Iraq and withdrawing troops and climate change and that sort of stuff. But predominantly what leaders around the world wanted to talk to the Prime Minister about was what it was like to apologise to Indigenous Australians. That is the impact that it has had.

Now is the time when we need to really start to look at what we can do for Indigenous Australians, in particular those in remote communities. How can we make those communities function better? How can we rid them of the alcohol problems, the drug abuse and the petrol sniffing? We continue to build houses. We get them into functional communities. How do we give them economic development through working not only with government agencies but also with private enterprise—to allow it to come into communities—to make sure that we do close the gap?

Closing the gap in Indigenous life expectancy has been the focus of the Rudd government from day 1. That has not changed. The coordinator-general will now provide us with a vehicle for somebody to really ask the hard questions and to say: ‘Well, all right, we have put this money into this community. Fine. What effect is it having on the ground? What is it going to do? How is it improving things?’ These things are measurable.

How many kids are getting to school? We need to work with parents in order to make sure their kids go to school. We take it as it given that kids will go to school. But, in some of these communities, mums are very protective of their children—they are very close to their children—and some of them do not like their children going away for six hours during the day. Some people do not understand the benefits of that. They want their kids near them. That is their culture. That is the way they are. They are very clingy to their kids. My wife is no exception to that. She is very close to our five kids. You can go to the football and just buy one seat for her to sit on because they all sort of sit on top of her—and they are getting to be 16, 17 and 18 years old. But they are still very clingy to their mother.

Ms Macklin —I hope they are not all as big as you.

Mr HALE —It would be a lot cheaper to just buy the one seat, Jenny, instead of the six that I usually have to pay for!

We need to continue to work with Indigenous Australians because they are a gift to us. The gift that they do bring—and I go back to Liam Jurrah, and I see his picture on the front page of the Age—comes not only through football but certainly through the arts and drama. David Gulpilil was from a place called Ramingining. My father taught at Maningrida and he taught David Gulpilil. David has had to walk both sides of the street his entire life. I had the pleasure of catching up with him in the mall a couple of weeks ago in Darwin. He tried to sell me a painting, I must admit, which I did not purchase, but he was very friendly. David has done it for so long. We take it for granted that he should be able to do it. But, when you think about it, he is a full-blood Aboriginal man who has grown up and lived in Ramingining all his life and he has not only been able to be with his people and his culture but also been able to walk the walk in New York and places like that overseas, where he has been a superstar of the screen in movies like Storm Boy. He cut his teeth on Storm Boy, then he went on to Crocodile Dundee and he played a starring role in Australia recently. David is a great example of somebody that has had to really struggle. He has had his own personal struggles, but certainly he is an iconic actor. When you meet him he still has the big smile and the sparkle in his eye. He is certainly an individual that all Australians should be very proud of.

Hopefully, if the coordinator-general can do this, we can get some real goals kicked for Indigenous communities. The time has come; we cannot talk any longer. Time is running out for a lot of these people. As I just said about the time the minister came to bag it with me in my community, the trouble is—and the community said this—that a lot of them have given up. They have just decided: ‘Well, my lot in life is that I am not going to have a job. I am not going to have a house. I am just going to sit under this tree and die when I am 50 because that is my lot.’ That is a tragedy. We need to address that.

As I said, I welcome the comments from the member for Warringah and I do believe that he has a genuine concern about Indigenous communities. I think, as I said, this has got to be a bipartisan approach. It cannot be a political approach. It has got to be a bipartisan approach. Do what is best for Indigenous Australia.

When the coordinator-general is appointed, I wish that person the best of luck to work closely with government to make sure that we deliver services on the ground. We do not need layers and layers of bureaucracy. We need to have a coordinated effort in which money that is committed by government actually hits the ground so that we start to make some real changes for these people that live in these remote communities—not only remote communities, but also in places such as in my area of Solomon in Darwin and Palmerston, where I have five Indigenous communities. They are suffering like the Yuendumus and the Lajamanus and the Ti Trees and the Santa Teresas and those communities, like Mutitjulu, that are more in the spotlight.

There is a crisis there, and I commend the minister on her efforts so far in 18 months. Certainly it is not an easy job. I will continue to work closely with her for my communities. I think that, whenever this position is filled, it needs the support of everyone in this place so that when we walk of this place one day—when we are voted out or we retire—we can look back on our time here and say: ‘Well, did I make a difference? Did I get into politics for the right reasons?’ I believe that the 150 members in this place are all here for the right reasons and are all passionate about their areas and are all passionate about Australia.

But being in politics is about trying to make a difference. This parliament can make a difference in the next 18 months, as can whoever wins the next election after that. This is our time right now to make a difference to Indigenous Australians. We cannot wait any longer. To Liam Jurrah, my friend: I wish you luck. I hope the Bombers win, but I hope he gets a kick. I commend the bill to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr AJ Schultz)—It is good to see the member for Solomon has maintained his enthusiasm for Aussie Rules football from his days in Temora in New South Wales.