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Thursday, 19 June 2014
Page: 6809


Mr TUDGE (AstonParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister) (11:51): I firstly make the observation that this is the very first time in Australian political history that we are discussing the Indigenous Affairs budget as part of the consideration of the Prime Minister and Cabinet budget. That is because Prime Minister Abbott is now the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs. It is the first time in Australian political history that that has been done, and he has done so because he saw the importance of this area and wanted to oversee the entire portfolio area himself. The questions that will come up now will also come up when we are discussing the Prime Minister and Cabinet budget. I think that is worth reflecting upon.

I will not in my opening remarks go through the specific measures which are outlined in the budget. They are tabled for the members here to see. What I would like to do, though, is inform members as to the overall approach that we are taking in the Indigenous Affairs portfolio, the rationale for that approach, and, through that, how the budget is actually delivering on that approach. We have a great many challenges in this nation—and the member for Kooyong outlined some of the budgetary challenges which we are facing—but the greatest challenge in Australia remains the plight of Indigenous people. We ask all members to ensure that this is high on our political agenda at all times—and with the Prime Minister taking on the portfolio it hopefully will remain high on the political agenda at all times.

Our overall approach can be summarised by saying that we have three core priorities in the Indigenous area, and they sit on a bed of governance reforms. Those priorities are to get kids to school, to get the adults into work and to ensure that there are safe communities. And then there are a series of governance reforms which underpin that, and on the side we have the constitutional recognition process underway. I will touch on each of those three priorities briefly, as well as the governance changes. First of all, why those priorities—why education, employment and community? In part, it is because of the upstream factors. If kids are at school, if the adults are in work and you have reasonable order in a community, then the other things tend to take care of themselves. People's mental health is better and people's physical health is better. If people are in work and kids are in school, then child protection tends to be better. If there is a safe community, then you do not need as many activities overall in terms of policing and other such activities. So it is a firm focus on the things which we think absolutely matter for the overall functioning of any society, frankly, not just the Indigenous community.

But when you look at those three areas, there are significant problems at present. Take school attendance, for example. The school attendance rate across Australia for Indigenous is about 10 percentage points lower than for the non-Indigenous. But that hides what is occurring in the remote areas where there is sometimes what I would consider a catastrophic Indigenous attendance rate. In remote Northern Territory, for example, only about 25 per cent of students attend 80 per cent of the time. If you are attending less than 80 per cent of the time, you are effectively not learning. There are only about 25 per cent of students, therefore, that I would consider learning by virtue of attending school for a sufficient amount of time.

When you look at employment, the employment gap is about 30 percentage points. The overall employment rate for non-Indigenous people is about 75 per cent and about 25 per cent for Indigenous per cent, and gap has in fact got wider over the last five years rather than smaller. When you look at community safety, the stats across the board are poorer in Indigenous communities than in non-Indigenous communities. So we do need to have a dedicated focus on those three areas, and this budget consolidates programs to ensure that we can have that focus.

It also has important governance reforms, primarily, by amalgamating 150 programs into five broad ones and ensuring that we can have much more localised and nuanced decisions made at a local level where Indigenous people can be more empowered.