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Tuesday, 14 February 2017
Page: 858

Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (18:48): I rise to put some remarks on the record this evening as a response to the delivery of the ninth Closing the gap report in this country of ours, of which we are so proud in so many ways. I am certainly proud to have the opportunity to stand in this place and in our nation alongside Aboriginal brothers and sisters. But there is also shame that rests on us for the real life outcomes of the peoples of the first nation at this time.

I want to acknowledge, as Senator McAllister has done, on this particular day that we are gathering on the lands of the Ngunawal and Ngambri people. I too echo my pride in being a woman who lives and has lived for 32 years since the commencement of my married life on the land of the Darkinjung and Guringai people. I very much honour NAISDA, which is in the seat of Robertson on the land of the Darkinjung—the National Aboriginal Islander Skills Development Association. It is the equivalent of NIDA, except that it is for Aboriginal culture. It enriches our local community in the most profound and wonderful way; it also enriches the communities which the young people come from and return to with their skill sets enhanced. These are the choice of my life in my interactions with Aboriginal culture.

I also want to acknowledge the teaching role and the passionate advocacy undertaken by my colleagues in this place, Senator Patrick Dodson, Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, and Linda Burney—all of whom I call very good friends. I would also like to acknowledge, as was done in the House today, the historic role that is now held Mr Ken Wyatt, the member for Hasluck in Western Australia, and Senator Jacqui Lambie in this place. On this day I would also like to acknowledge Senator Nova Peris, who was a great friend and mentor to me in the time she was here in the parliament. One of the things she taught me was how important it was to continue to hold ourselves to account for what happens in this country.

It is my hope that this reporting day becomes an increasingly significant day for all Australians, from all walks of life of all ages from all parties, to continually test against our intention and our hopes what we are doing to achieve real life outcomes for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters. We understand the concept of a report card—it is something that is a part of our lives. We understand that there are moments of accountability that help us to see clearly where we are and how far we are towards achieving the goals that we wanted to achieve.

I also want to acknowledge the support of Senator Scullion in making it possible for so many senators today to head over to the chamber to hear the report in person. I am happy that in this 45th Parliament there is an order with a continuing effect that enables us to go over and here live that very important report. It is so important that we tell the truth about what is going on. Today the truth telling is a continuing shame on us, a continuing shame on this nation for a failure to be wise enough, to be creative enough, to be brave enough and to be smart enough to find a way—a bipartisan way if we can—towards better outcomes for Australia's First Peoples.

The progress against the targets in the executive summary is a report card that you would have to consider a series of fails. The target to halve the gap in child mortality by 2018 is not on track this year—that is exactly what it says. The target to close the gap in life expectancy by 2031 is not on track, based on data since the 2006 baseline. You have to read target No. 3 quite carefully to figure out if we are on track or not on track because it does not clearly identify that we are actually failing our early childhood goals. It simply says that, in 2015, 87 per cent of all Indigenous children were enrolled in early childhood education compared with 98 per cent of their non-Indigenous counterparts. And right now there is legislation that this government is trying to push through the House that is going to have a devastatingly negative impact, particularly in rural and remote communities and particularly on Indigenous children who have at the moment some access to early childhood education.

The representatives of SNAICC have been all around this building. They have aired their advice. Their experience and their knowledge of their community have been shunned by ministers who have a chance in this government to ensure that young Aboriginal children actually get the access to early childhood education that they need. The decision making of governments one after the other to ignore those wise voices, particularly the wise voices of women in Indigenous communities, is going to cost all of those children, who will not be serviced. Some of these early childhood centres are tin sheds but those kids go there and they get a decent meal, they eat healthy food and there is support for their parents, for their mothers. That is happening. This government is about to take it away. The government has been told but there is a stuck. By arrogance, by historic precedent or by louder voices, it does not matter what it is by; the consequences are going to be devastating for those young people and this is what is happening time after time—not listening.

The fourth target: the new target to close the gap in school attendance by the end of 2018 is not on track. The fifth target: to halve the gap in reading and numeracy by 2018 is not on track. There is one tick. The means to target halve the gap in year 12 attainment by 2020 is on track. Thank God there is one thing that we have got some hope for, one thing that we have been able to maintain a commitment to. The sixth target to halve the gap in employment by 2018 is not on track.

So out of six tests that we set ourselves, we failed on five. I say 'we' because this is across governments. We cannot allow this to continue. We must continue to hold this day up to ourselves and we must suffer the shame of the report card of this year. We must also look at it as an opportunity to redouble our efforts to transform our understanding, to unstop our ears, to hear and to listen. We were told this morning by the gathering facilitated by the Congress at the Redfern Statement—this is the booklet—and the message was loud and clear. I was so glad to hear Aboriginal voices saying 'we have the solutions', demanding that we hear them here this morning. They are asking for some pretty clear things. I will read one: restoring over the forward estimates the $534 million, cut from the Indigenous affairs portfolio in the 2014 budget, to invest in priority areas outlined in this statement. That is a fact. That has happened under this government. That is a clear request.

How could a government take $534 million from Indigenous affairs and even expect that they were going to make closing the gap targets? This is either important to the governments of Australia or it is not. It is important to me and I am sure it is important to many Australians. Governments need to pay a lot more attention to what is going on in this area. The calls on the federal government here this morning I want to put on the record: commit to resourcing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander led solutions; commit to better engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through their representative national peaks; recommit to closing the gap in this generation by and in partnership with COAG and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; secure national funding agreements between Commonwealth, states and territories like the former national partnership agreements, which emphasise accountability to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and drive the implementation of national strategies; commit to working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders to establish a department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs in the future; and commit to addressing the unfinished business of reconciliation.

The calls of this document are very clear. There is a determination by Aboriginal people to have their voices heard to bring forward the solutions to the problems of their community, and I applaud the efforts in pulling that together. I hope that when I give a report next year we do not get five fails out of six categories.

Question agreed to.