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Tuesday, 14 February 2017
Page: 1039

Mr McCORMACK (RiverinaMinister for Small Business) (17:11): I acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, custodians of the land on which this parliament stands. I also acknowledge the Wiradjuri people, who represent the Riverina and Central West area that I proudly represent in this place.

Since the redistribution of the electorate boundaries a lot of people have asked me: what does the bottom of the electorate around Yerong Creek and Wagga Wagga have in common with the top of the electorate of Forbes and Parkes and right up to Peak Hill? It is true that the Central West relates more to Orange and Dubbo, while the southern part of the electorate around Wagga Wagga relates more to the natural geographical area Riverina, coordinating with the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, as well as the Snowy Mountains areas of Tumut and Tumbarumba. But the one thing these areas have in common is the fact that they are all Wiradjuri country.

I also acknowledge the member for Lingiari. Forty-two per cent of his constituents are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I know the great work that he has done not just in his electorate but on a national stage to help the plight of the Aboriginal people he represents, and I acknowledge that.

As the small business minister I also want to acknowledge the fantastic work that Senator Nigel Scullion, the Indigenous affairs minister, has done for procurement for Aboriginal small businesses, because we know that the best way out of welfare is a job. We know that the best way to get ahead in this world is to have income, to run a business and to be able to make a profit that way.

The original target set for contracts for Aboriginal procurement in 2015-16 was 0.5 per cent of Commonwealth domestic contracts. This acknowledged the very low base, given the Commonwealth procured only $6.2 million from Indigenous businesses in 2012-13. In just the coalition's first year we have so far surpassed the targets. Under the coalition's new procurement policy, the Commonwealth has awarded more than 1,500 direct and indirect contracts to almost 500 Indigenous businesses. These contracts are worth a total of more than $284 million—almost 46 times the value of Indigenous contracts awarded by the Commonwealth in 2012-13. That is a credit to Senator Scullion.

The coalition is immediately bringing forward to this financial year its 2020 target to award three per cent of contracts to Indigenous businesses, nearly three years ahead of schedule.

Although more than half—56 per cent—of the total value of Indigenous business contracts were awarded in the building, construction and maintenance sector, what makes the IPP so remarkable is the range of businesses which have successfully tendered for work under this policy. These include businesses which produce information and communications technology products, as well as service providers in the recruitment, legal and financial industries. Through the Council of Australian Governments we are continuing to work with the states and territories to get them to introduce their own Indigenous procurement policies, and I call on them to redouble these efforts.

I want to acknowledge some of the Aboriginal people who are making some really good initiatives and being really fine role models in the Wiradjuri areas that I represent—namely, Kath Withers, Isabel Reid and Gail Clark. Each of them do wonderful welcomes to country. Whether it is Australia Day or any other event that is going on in and around Wagga Wagga and Coolamon, these three wonderful Aboriginal elders are always there and always talking about inclusivity and the need for all of us to be united.

We heard from the previous speaker about Clontarf, which has a great program at Mount Austin High School—a fantastic rugby league program—which has been rolled out to get more Indigenous youth not just playing sport but interested in turning up to school and participating in that way that makes sure they get a great education. We heard from the Prime Minister today about how education is the great enabler for Indigenous youth.

Stan Grant senior—father of Stan Grant, who we know through the media—has done some great work with a couple of editions of the Wiradjuri dictionary to make sure that the language used over thousands of years is in a form that not only is able to be used now but will last forever. Hugh Wyman, Vietnam veteran and a great mate of mine, is always helping out Aboriginal youth by talking about the great positives there are in society today and getting the younger generation interested in taking part in everything that is happening not only on a sporting front but also, particularly, in military representation and making sure that Aboriginal veterans are always at the forefront of our minds.

As I say, I represent an area in New South Wales which is large and diverse but which is all Wiradjuri country. The 6.1 per cent of the population in the Riverina electorate is made up of Indigenous people. As the Prime Minister and others have mentioned today, closing the gap remains a priority for this government; it remains a priority for our parliament.

To reiterate some of the key highlights of the report released today, as a nation we have made progress in specific areas. There have been significant improvements in the proportion of Indigenous 20- to 24-year-olds achieving year 12 or equivalent. At higher levels of education there is almost no employment gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. There are significant improvements in health. We have seen a significant decline in mortality rates, greater access to antenatal care, reduced rates of smoking, reduction in mortality from chronic diseases and declining infant mortality rates.

Just before I came into the chamber to talk on this important motion, I met the chief executive officer, David Butt, and senior policy adviser, Alexis Mohay, from the National Rural Health Alliance, who outlined the key priorities of the alliance. One of those is to improve the health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, which worsens with increasing remoteness—and the member for Lingiari would know that better than anyone. The alliance says in its key priorities document:

We need greater focus on improving child health, education and well-being and to support Indigenous families to give them the best start in life. It should involve a holistic early childhood strategy which informs high quality, locally responsive and culturally appropriate programs with stable, long-term funding.

One of the other key priorities of the five that the National Rural Health Alliance—a former chairman of which is Doctor Paul Mara from Gundagai in my electorate—says are important, is supporting:

…the best start in life for mothers and babies, focusing on the first 1,000 days—from conception to the age of two.

We heard the Prime Minister annunciate this very message in his wonderful speech today. The alliance believe that the best investment in the long-term health and wellbeing of children, Australian's future, is in ensuring that they have the best possible start in life. There would be no-one in this room, no-one in this building, who would not agree with that.

The alliance argues that we should build on the First 1000 Days program, which targets Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, as an exemplar program to support women and children across all communities.

But other key factors of the report released today are that reading and numeracy are improving for Indigenous children, and that is a wonderful thing. There has also been a significant increase for Indigenous female employment over the longer term.

Whilst we celebrate our achievements, as a government and as a parliament we do not hide from the fact that there is much more to do to support our Indigenous population. In the Riverina and central west, there are areas in which we need to improve. Some I am hopeful we can address, including encouraging better school attendance. As at 2015 in the Riverina, 87.4 per cent of Indigenous children attended school compared to 92.6 per cent. Supporting Indigenous people to find work—the Indigenous unemployment rate is 17.1 per cent compared to 4.9 for the non-Indigenous population. Those figures certainly give us room to improve.

On a national level, the government has targets. These targets are important and focus our attention on the areas in which we, as a country, need to do much better. The government will continue to work to halve the gap in child mortality for Indigenous children under five by 2018; close the gap in life expectancy by 2031; have 95 per cent of all Indigenous four-year-olds enrolled in early childhood education by 2025; close the gap in school attendance by the end of next year; halve the gap in reading, writing and numeracy for Indigenous students by next year; halve the gap in year 12 attainment by 2020; and halve the gap in employment outcomes by 2018. They are big goals, and I appreciate some of them are long-range goals, but they are goals that we must achieve, not just for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people but for all communities, because together, as one, we need to do these and together, as one, we need to stand as a nation that is proud of our record for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.