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Wednesday, 11 February 2015
Page: 514

Senator LINES (Western Australia) (17:40): I acknowledge the Ngambri and Ngunawal peoples, the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet, and I pay my respects to elders past and present and any elders in the Senate today. It is with great sadness that I rise today to acknowledge that we as a nation have failed to close the gap. Even where we have made gains, these gains have been very small. I note, too, that we continue to ignore justice. Without justice as a measure, it is hard to truly improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This must be addressed.

I acknowledge the heartfelt speech given by Senator Peris today, and I think we would be wise to listen to her and enact some of the points she made. In speaking today I acknowledge my Gidja granddaughter. I as a white grandmother, want the best for her; but I know that as a young Aboriginal child the outcomes for her are lesser than they are from my grandson who is non-Indigenous. Within my family I struggle to understand why the colour of her skin means that her outcomes are much lower. That is completely unacceptable. Of course, as my granddaughter, I love her to bits and I want the very best for her—but I know the odds are stacked against her.

As a Western Australian I continue to be saddened by what is happening in my state. I say again: we have to have justice. Justice must be a measure. We have the highest juvenile incarceration rates in the country in Western Australia, and they continue to get higher. Deaths in custody are a tragedy in Western Australia and I have spoken in this parliament on two occasions about the tragic death in custody of Miss Dhu.

About eight weeks ago I attended an Aboriginal deaths-in-custody meeting on a Saturday afternoon. There were mainly Noongar people there—south-west people. Every person in the room—every single Noongar person—had a death to talk about: an unusual death, a harsh death or a suicide. All were related to justice. I could not help but note the fact that if that had been gathering of non-Aboriginal people it would have been a very different gathering. The sorrow in that room was overwhelming. I was determined as I left that meeting. You could easily get caught up in that sorrow and be completely ineffective, so we need to be warriors as parliamentarians—warriors along with the leaders of the Aboriginal community.

The time for listening and consultation is long gone. The time now is for action. In this place, a couple of months back, we heard about the homeland communities. Yes, they have their troubles; but there are fewer suicides on homeland communities in Western Australia than in non-homeland communities. But they are to be defunded and the Premier of our state just announced, without any consultation, that they would be closed. This would be a tragedy. Many of them have microbusinesses operating on them and to just close them, because that is the easiest thing to do, would again be a great injustice to Aboriginal people in those communities.

In Western Australia towards the end of last year we had an 11-year-old Yamatji boy commit suicide. Imagine if he had been a white child. There would have been immediate action—and yet nothing has been said; nothing has been done. I cannot imagine the tragedy of finding an 11-year-old who has suicided.

In the Kimberley we continue—every single week—to have suicides. The highest rate of suicide in the world now occurs in the Kimberley. You only have to visit the Kimberley and move beyond Broome to see the abject poverty and disadvantage, to see many Aboriginal people living in towns but not employed in the local supermarkets, not employed in the tourist destinations. They are left to sit under trees or work for Aboriginal organisations.

We had a Kimberley elder, about four weeks, ago commit suicide. He was a person held in high regard in the Kimberley. He was so depressed and lacking in hope that he simply took his own life. There is much for us to do. I am pleased that the Prime Minister has said we have to move forward, but the time for talking is done. It is now time for action.