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Monday, 22 February 2010
Page: 681


Senator IAN MACDONALD (4:48 PM) —I rise to speak on the motion moved by my colleague relating to the report Closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Mr Acting Deputy President, you have just heard from someone who really understands the difficulties for Indigenous Australians. We are very fortunate in the coalition to have someone of Senator Scullion’s calibre and knowledge as our spokesman on Indigenous affairs.

I want to contribute—ever so briefly, I might add, for my colleagues’ benefit—to the motion taking note of the Prime Minister’s statement on Closing the Gap, just to highlight again the problems of Indigenous people in Cape York. Over many years those Indigenous people, through long struggle, have achieved ownership of a lot of the lands in Cape York, and they have big plans for those lands. But the Queensland government have come along with this ridiculous Wild Rivers legislation: legislation that was brought into play in Queensland in a grubby deal between the Queensland Labor Party government and the Queensland Greens political party to lock up the so-called wild rivers. That has meant, in many instances, that the plans and visions that the Indigenous people of Cape York had for their own future—a future not relying on government handouts but dealing with their own lands and making wealth, jobs and self-fulfilment from their lands—have been shattered by the Queensland Labor government’s wild rivers legislation.

I was delighted to stand by Tony Abbott, the Leader of the Opposition, when one of his first announcements as leader was to indicate that he was going to take the fairly bold, very courageous move of overturning Queensland state legislation with federal legislation to effectively nullify the Queensland government’s wild rivers legislation. Why did he do this? It was not out of any particular animosity to the Queensland government—although, I might say, most Queenslanders these days, according to the opinion polls, have a great animosity to the current Queensland government. That was not Mr Abbott’s reasoning. He was doing that because he is a guy who, like Senator Scullion, has actually lived amongst Indigenous peoples. For several years past now, Mr Abbott has been up in Cape York—not with a media contingent, not for a photo opportunity, as the Prime Minister is so good at, but up there actually acting as a teacher’s aide for a couple of weeks in an Indigenous community. He has a feel for them. He has spoken to Indigenous leaders like Noel Pearson, who are just ropable, absolutely furious, at this Queensland government legislation. He has spoken to other Indigenous leaders—Deon Creek was among several who attended Mr Abbott’s announcement in Cairns—of his intention to try to overturn the Queensland government’s wild rivers legislation. All the Indigenous leaders that we have spoken to are totally incensed by the Queensland government’s action in depriving them of a future. That is why I am so glad that Mr Abbott has introduced that private member’s bill.

I am saddened that Mr Rudd has not, in his statement today, wholeheartedly endorsed Mr Abbott’s legislation. I had hoped he might say, ‘I’ll take over Mr Abbott’s legislation and introduce it myself.’ That would have been acceptable, because I know Mr Abbott does not want the glory of doing this; he just wants something done for Indigenous people. He wants to close the gap with practical action—not with words, great statements, huge media opportunities and hoopla. He actually wants to get in and do things that will assist. I am not saying the Labor Party deliberately go out to make things worse for Indigenous people. I know they are trying, in their incompetent way, to do their best for Indigenous people. But they have no understanding. They are skilled in thoughts from the ivory towers, one might say, in all the textbook things that could be done to help Indigenous people. None of it works. You need to get out on the ground, as Senator Scullion does, and talk to the communities at Wadeye to understand what the housing problems really are.

Expectations have been built up by Mr Rudd which, as Senator Scullion was saying, will never be delivered on because the Rudd government are incapable of delivering any program on time, effectively and on budget. They are brilliant at the spin. They are brilliant at the promises. But, when it comes to delivering on the ground, they are completely hopeless. I only regret that Mr Rudd has not taken on more of the initiatives that Mal Brough started, and which Senator Scullion often talks about, in doing something positive and proper for our Indigenous brothers in Australia.

Whilst I welcome Mr Rudd’s statement, I regret that it is simply another Ruddism, it is all talk and no action—it sounds good, he will get a headline tomorrow and then, as usual with Mr Rudd, he will do nothing about it. Hopefully by this time next year there will be a new government that will be making statements about Indigenous people that actually mean something and practically advance their lot. I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.