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Thursday, 18 August 2011
Page: 8553

Mr HAASE (Durack) (11:26): I rise today to address the Indigenous Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill 2011. There are three schedules in this bill as it stands. I had a firm understanding that schedule 2 was going to be dropped. Regardless of that, the point that I would like to discuss in some detail is the very sensible decision to give a little more land back to those Indigenous persons so it can be handed over to the Aboriginal Lands Trust. This has been a win-win situation, I believe, because what we want to maintain is that all Australians have the right to throw a fishing line in a tidal creek. Where there was some demand for control over lands down to the low water mark, that demand will now be eased by the knowledge that more land will be available to go into the Aboriginal Lands Trust.

We are broadly in support of this legislation, but the nature of it and the fact that we have been debating it here in the House today raises the whole issue of legislation and consequential funding that surrounds matters Indigenous in Australia today. Many of us on this side of the House have had a long association with Indigenous affairs, broadly representing more remote areas of Australia, and I believe that more and more today the community at large is asking about the veracity and the effectiveness of specific funding for Indigenous causes. Recent media has highlighted this concern and raises the questions: are we on the right track? Are we doing the best for Indigenous people with the taxpayer funds that are being spent on Indigenous people? Do we have the right strategies in place? Are those strategies based on the correct philosophy? Do we wish to give rebirth to Indigenous culture across this nation? Do we want to see the eventual repatriation of some 600 Indigenous languages?

We have a huge philosophical dilemma here. The purists would have us believe that we need to fund ad nauseam all manner of Indigenous causes to take the culture back to where it rightfully belongs. Others would argue that we do not need to focus on any more than the basic essentials of good education, health and housing conditions. We need, of course, to wrestle with the whole concept of regional and remote communities. That has also raised its head in debate, as to whether or not we have a legitimate right to make people captive in communities with welfare as opposed to providing real employment opportunities outside those communities.

That philosophical question has never been satisfactorily addressed in this place or, I might add, in any other major institution in Australia. The dilemma remains as to whether we should be supporting with welfare and other essential services those populations that choose to live in remote communities because they are their traditional lands, or whether we should be drawing people away from those communities to where they would have real-life opportunities, from the basics of good education through to job training, independent living and all that follows from being economically independent.

That is an issue that many people will glibly tell you is clear cut. They will tell you that Indigenous people have the right to live on their country and we as the taxpayers of Australia should support them with water, sewage, electricity, roads, education, health and housing. They will tell you that Indigenous people have every right to choose that lifestyle and that, given that there is no employment in those areas, they have the right to be dependent upon taxpayers through welfare.

But I put the question: are we doing the right thing in providing this financial crutch to thousands of people in remote Australia, almost making them captive in those locations by not underlining the alternative? We make no public statement about serious mutual obligation. We do little to reinforce our philosophy that mutual obligation is important, especially under the Australian welfare system.

There are numerous programs talked about today under the broad headings of income management and welfare quarantining. The basic idea is that, in some cases, welfare payments are not being managed to the advantage of families at large and that we ought to influence the way in which those funds are spent—we ought to, for instance, prevent welfare being spent on alcohol, tobacco and other drugs and insist that a high proportion go towards housing, clothing and food. I find it quite unbelievable that many spokespeople in this country would take umbrage at that sort of guidance, assistance and management.

We have all seen far too often the results of the total lack of management of welfare income for Indigenous groups and others in remote communities. When the report Little children are sacred was handed down, it revealed the addiction to substances, domestic violence and child abuse in so many Indigenous communities across this nation that Minister Mal Brough and the Howard government at the time instigated inquiries, medical checks and quarantining of welfare. That was applauded roundly by many, many people in those environments, who knew the state of affairs and the damage that was created. But there were sectors of the community—less well-informed, in my opinion—that were very critical of those new measures imposed to assist in the education and general wellbeing of community people.

And that argument goes on. I believe that it is an important argument, but it is no good just arguing about it; we need to come to a resolution and come to a point where legislation is proposed that we can boldly say is to the advantage of Indigenous people. We need to be able to boldly say that the expenditure in such legislation on Indigenous programs would be to the good of Indigenous people as opposed to the good of individual Indigenous people who—and it would seem that this happens too often—misappropriate the funds for particular programs.

Before anyone accuses me of overgeneralising, I know full well that the Indigenous population is represented by numerous professional, capable people who are committed to their families, hold solid jobs and do the right thing as Australians. Sadly, there are also far too many examples of Indigenous leaders with access to funds for particular programs who do not have the skill or the experience, or perhaps the will, to acquit funds in the appropriate manner. The media love to inform Australians about the failed programs. That can cast a general slur across the many programs that are greatly beneficial. personally believe that much more stuff of a very serious nature needs to be done to look at the whole question of advancement of Indigenous peoples. The whole question exists as to whether the government's funding focus should be on promoting wellbeing, life expectancy, education, financial independence et cetera or should be on assisting in the rebirth or redevelopment of Indigenous culture for all its complexity. I said at the beginning of my contribution that in the past we had some 600 languages across Australia. If we are to seriously contemplate what we are going to do to give pride and perhaps motivation to each of those original groups, I think we might agree that that would be a mammoth task that would take a lot of time and a lot of money and we may lose the plot in the meantime.

So, as I said, I believe we need to look at health, education and longevity. We need to apply tough love. We need to develop policies that will see Indigenous people realise that mutual obligation is vitally important and that welfare is not the answer. Noel Pearson for decades has been saying just that. Jackie Dann from Derby in the late 1980s wrote a paper on the welfare paddock, condemning its influence on his people.

Indigenous people, broadly speaking, need a better crack at life, and I think that will come with better education. Better education will only come if there is motivation to attend school on a regular basis. Schooling ought not be accidental. Schooling ought to be as important for Indigenous people living in communities as it is for the average Joe Blow and their kids living in suburbia. It is certainly not at this stage. If anyone believes there is an expectation amongst Indigenous families living in remote communities that their children will regularly attend school, get a primary school education, do well in secondary education, get job training and have a job for life, then those people need to think again. That is not a general expectation. Until such time as education is seen as a vital link to life for Indigenous people then education will be neglected and those individuals subsequently will not have the crack at life that mainstream Australians do.

We as a parliament need to get serious in looking at a better way. We need to realise once and for all that the money that has been spent has not been spent wisely. The programs that have been devised by Canberra bureaucrats in the main—ticking boxes and handing out ticked reports to other people who tick other boxes—are not solutions. For decades it has been recognised by people who know that that is not a solution. We have not seriously bitten the bullet and had a debate for the good of Indigenous people. We have had a debate about what is good for the longevity of governments, but not about what is good for Indigenous people. Some tough love needs to be applied. Some greater understanding of the Australian population at large needs to be acquired. We need to do a better job for the sake of Indigenous people into the future. (Time expired)