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Tuesday, 14 February 2017
Page: 846


Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (17:45): I rise today to make a contribution to the discussion on the Prime Minister's statement on closing the gap. I find it extremely upsetting to see that we continue to see a lack of progress on meeting most, if not nearly all, of the Closing the Gap targets. We have actually regressed on one of them from last year. It breaks my heart that that has occurred, particularly as it is the child mortality rate. While we have shared the successes that we have seen, as Dr Jackie Huggins said this morning in the Great Hall, unfortunately we are seeing more negative than positive.

That is deeply distressing, and it should be to this entire place. It means that we need to redouble our efforts. Falling behind on child mortality rates means that the failure to act in this space is actually costing lives. As we have heard, only one of the targets is on track and if we keep going the way we are going then we will not meet the targets of 2031 and we will not achieve the objective that so many have committed to and are so dedicated to. We have also gone backwards when it comes to some of Aboriginal children's reading and numeracy. Only year 9 numeracy is on track at this stage, which means that kids are getting poorer outcomes just as they are starting out in life.

I have witnessed all of the Closing the gap reports in the time that I have been a senator, since they first started getting made and delivered after the apology in this place. I find this one particular devastating, given that some of the poor outcomes are a result of some of the other things that have occurred, such as the taking of over half a billion dollars worth of funding out of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs and the flawed implementation and the flawed process of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy. I could go on, but it would probably take most of the time that I have left to speak.

This morning many of us witnessed Aboriginal organisations, led by the National Congress of Australia's First People, present to the Prime Minister; the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Shorten; and Senator Di Natale, the leader of the Greens; a copy of the Redfern Statement. I might just pause here and seek leave to table the Redfern Statement, which I have discussed with both the government and the opposition.

Leave granted.

Senator SIEWERT: I saw them formally present that document to parliament and also, which is very important, their proposed engagement strategy for better engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Hence the statement that a number of people have made during the course of today, and in fact previously, that the government does not do things to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples but with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The Redfern Statement was released during the election and essentially called the nation's attention to the lack of progress in closing the gap and what should be done. It was a call for action. It was produced by over 55 Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal organisations and peak bodies and it was led by the National Congress of Australia's First People. It is essentially a road map to guide the government and the parliament on how to better engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues and how to implement this statement on a continuing basis. The signatories are calling for a paradigm shift, and the statement, together with the engagement approach, provides the framework for this change. In the nine years since the Closing the Gap framework was set up, only half of the targets are currently even on track to be met, and we know that so far only one target has been met this year.

The Redfern Statement engagement approach for 2017, which we should all be supporting, calls for a new relationship with the government, one that includes increased engagement Australia's first peoples, so that the massive mistakes of programs like the flawed IAS approach are never repeated. The hope is that this will lead to better organised, co-designed and holistic policy and accountable implementation.

I call on the Prime Minister, and in fact the whole of this parliament, to agree to the engagement approach and ensure that a national enduring agreement or framework, as called for in the Redfern Statement and by the people presenting the Redfern Statement, is able to be produced prior to the 2018 budget and following their proposed national summit in September 2017. This agreement or framework will enable communities to drive their own development approaches based on their experiences, strengths and challenges.

I also call on the government to properly fund the National Congress of Australia's First People as well as other peak bodies. We heard so passionately this morning in the Great Hall how important are community based Aboriginal driven organisations, such as those addressing domestic violence, such as legal organisations, such as child care organisations. These organisations have suffered repeated cuts. It is time that stopped. It is time their vital work was funded.

Over the past 25 years there have been over 400 recommendations made to reduce the disadvantage for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Most of those recommendations have not been implemented, have largely been ignored or have been only partially implemented. It is time that these recommendations were implemented. The growing incarceration rate for our first peoples is shameful and the lack of urgency on this is deeply concerning. I will repeat again, although it falls on deaf ears all the time, the calls for setting justice targets. I will not repeat the figures again, because we have heard them so many times before. What we need now is some action to address those targets.

The Prime Minister commented today that he would be doing things with Aboriginal communities not to Aboriginal communities, but not long after that he continued to comment about how successful the cashless welfare card and those forms of programs are. Those are programs that are being imposed on Aboriginal communities. They are causing great distress to a number of Aboriginal people in communities and, in fact, on a number of occasions they are causing great division. I visited Kununurra in December and talked to many people in the community on both sides of the discussion. I did not just talk to people who opposed the card; I talked to many people who supported the card too. There are a number of issues with it, and I do not have time to go into those now. The point here is it is causing deep division within communities. It is being imposed on many people.

What we need now is to get behind the very strong calls from Aboriginal organisations, Aboriginal communities and leaders in their field of expertise to implement The Redfern Statement, which is a comprehensive approach that addresses issues around incarceration, child care and domestic violence and also raises the issues with out-of-home care. I have spoken in this place many times about the appalling rate of Aboriginal children going into out-of-home care. Only when we address all those issues will we finally manage to close the gap.

In the short amount of time I have left I would like to raise again issues around sovereignty and treaty. If we are to achieve a fully reconciled nation we need to make sure that we are having a national conversation about sovereignty and treaties. The Greens will support those discussions and do what we can to participate in the debates on how we achieve sovereignty and treaties, recognising that we need to hold extensive consultation and extensive discussions around these issues.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Ketter ): Senator Dodson, I understand that informal arrangements have been made for the clock to be set at 20 minutes.