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Thursday, 28 June 2012
Page: 4926

Senator BOYCE (Queensland) (21:40): I wanted to speak very briefly on this report as a member of the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee which undertook the inquiry into the Stronger Futures legislation. I would like to start by strongly supporting the sentiments of Senator Boswell's speech. I think it encapsulated the complexities and the very serious issues that all sides of politics have struggled with for many years.

I would also like to make the point that this was the last inquiry that the late Senator Judith Adams was involved in. She was a very, very active participant in the community affairs committee and a great advocate for Aboriginal people throughout Australia but especially in her home state of Western Australia.

I can appreciate the view of the Greens in that Senator Siewert has been one of the strongest advocates for the Indigenous population of Australia that I have seen and a very active participant in this committee. But I would also make the point that what the government is doing to the Greens right now is exactly what has been happening to the opposition all week and over the past term of parliament—simply not getting the chance to properly debate issues.

I would like to just briefly make some points on the inquiry that we held and the legislation. Certainly the point has been made over and over that there was very poor consultation undertaken by FaHCSIA. The committee went to the communities of Ntaria, better known as Hermannsburg, and Maningrida. In both cases, despite explaining what we were doing and why we were there, the local population thought that we as a committee were there not to hear their views about the legislation but to explain to them what the bill was about. We had been told that there had been extensive consultation undertaken both by the minister and her department and by consultants paid by her department. Certainly if that were the case the locals had not noticed.

So the first thing that we recommended is that consultation has to be far more carefully undertaken. We are not talking about a sophisticated inner-city population who understand the purpose of legislation. We are talking about people who need the purpose of legislation, along with the outcomes, explained to them, possibly numerous times over.

I was surprised not long after our report came out that on one day I received 28,000 emails vigorously opposing the Stronger Futures campaign. Clearly any politician pays attention when they get 28,000 emails on a particular issue. One of my more savvy IT staff, however, managed to find out that in fact all these emails—the whole 28,000—had come from one address in Victoria. So what was happening was a straight-out spam campaign to try to convince the politicians involved in this inquiry that the level of concern about the Stronger Futures legislation was far higher than it genuinely was. I acknowledge that there is concern about this legislation, but I suspect in many cases that concern is based more on not understanding the legislation properly, not understanding the intent of the legislation, than it is on the actual policies in the legislation. As a number of speakers have pointed out, you can find as many people who support the intent of that legislation and support it as a follow-on, a logical, sensible follow-on, from the Northern Territory intervention policy of our government. We are attempting to put in place decent living conditions, functional family conditions, in many of the communities where they have not existed.

I noted the Senator Hanson-Young spoke at length about the increased number of cases of self-harm and of suicide since the Northern Territory intervention. I found that approach somewhat dishonest. One of the things that has happened as a result of the Northern Territory intervention, and this government's further role into Stronger Futures, is that we are collecting far better statistics. Obviously if you have more police on the ground you find more cases of crime or of concern. Even the Bureau of Statistics itself has been somewhat better funded in this area to collect the figures that we need to know. It was all very well for former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to spend a not inconsiderable amount of time talking about closing the gap, but the point is that no-one had a clue what that gap actually looked like. The statistics that we had were not sufficient to allow us to look at that.

So to use an increase in self-harm and suicide statistics as suggesting that the intervention has been a failure and that those increases are because of the intervention, I think is patently dishonest. It is a better collection of statistics and a better analysis of statistics that has in the main produced those figures. I would like to leave my comments there. But of course the coalition will in the main support this legislation.