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Monday, 29 October 2012
Page: 8250


Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (16:49): by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the item Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Bob Carr) and the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (Ms Macklin)—United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (agreed to 13 September 2012).

This is a motion that I propose to the Senate that marked the fifth anniversary of the development of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I note that both Senator Carr as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Ms Macklin as Minister for Families, Community Service and Indigenous Affairs have both responded to the motion. Senator Carr reiterated Australia's commitment to the work to promote human rights and human dignity of all Indigenous peoples, both domestically and internationally.

The motion specifically mentioned the International Labour Organization's Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention of 1989 and its ratification, and Senator Carr pointed out that the Commonwealth has just started talking to the states and territories about compliance and carrying out a comprehensive assessment of that compliance with states and territories before they move to ratify the convention. This convention came into being in 1989. I know that year very well; it is the year my son was born. It is 23 years ago, and we are only now looking at our compliance. It is exceedingly disappointing.

I will cover these points more extensively when I speak to Minister Macklin's letter, but it is interesting to note that the minister reiterates Australia's commitment to the promotion of human rights and human dignity of all Indigenous peoples, yet the government would not refer its Stronger Futures legislation to the human rights committee. I also note the numerous complaints that have been made internationally and to the United Nations by our own Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples about both the Northern Territory intervention and Stronger Futures.

I would like to concentrate on Minister Macklin's response to the motion. She is obviously coming from a very positive perspective, talking about taking the declaration seriously, particularly relating to the participating economic and social development and rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in line with the government's commitment to closing the gap. However, she does not mention things like the deaths in custody, or the fact that most of the extensive recommendations by the Royal Commission, which are now over 21 years old, have not been implemented. She also conveniently does not address income management on which we will be having a substantive debate shortly after this debate. She does not mention that the Native Title Act needs some significant amendments and has never delivered fully on its promise to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. While the government has an exposure draft of legislation to amend that legislation out at the moment, that draft does not deal with the obvious issues that need to be dealt with—for example, reversing the onus of proof which is absolutely critical if we are truly going to deliver on the promise of native title.

Recently the ANAO report came out. This report looks at some issues surrounding the administration and performance of some of our agencies delivering Indigenous outcomes. One of the key points was that whilst you would expect FaHCSIA to take a leading role as it is our lead agency on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policy, it is not taking a leadership role and it is not engaging properly. I believe one area that needs to be addressed is: how can this agency claim that it is taking leadership in this area when it is failing to adequately consult Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people? I have said in this place before and I will say it again: the government does not properly consult with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. A key part of this declaration, of DRIP, is participation and consultation along with fully informed prior consent. Yet legislation that arguably is having one of the biggest impacts on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to date is the stronger futures legislation and the past NT intervention. It is quite obvious from talking to communities in the Northern Territory that there has not been adequate consultation on this legislation and there was no fully informed prior consent, a key part of the declaration.

There is no way the government can say that it received fully informed prior consent to the stronger futures legislation. That legislation puts in place a number of punitive measures. I will not concentrate on income management because we are going to talk about that later, but one of the punitive measures is the legislation that is supposed to be getting kids back into school. There is a very simplistic approach to addressing the barriers to education, and it is quite obvious that attaining an adequate education is a major problem for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. You only have to read the 'Review of Higher Education Access and Outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People' report by Professor Larissa Behrendt, released not long ago, to see that only 47.2 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people attain a year 12 certificate, compared to 79.4 per cent of other Australian students. That is a vast difference. You have to look at that figure and say something is wrong here. Then when you look at the number of university enrolments you will see that only 1.4 per cent of university students are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. There are obvious barriers there that we need to address.

The declaration also puts a lot of emphasis on language, and it emphasises bilingual education. The 'Our Land Our Languages' report is very important. It talks about the importance of first languages and the importance of getting an education in a first language. It also points out the importance of first language in early learning environments. All these things the minister conveniently does not address in this report. The minister also does not address the fact that the stolen generations were not compensated. There was the apology which I acknowledge was a very significant moment in this country, but we did not go on to reparations. We did not go on to compensating the stolen generations for the disempowerment and the intergenerational trauma that that very poor part of Australia's history played and is continuing to play in Aboriginal communities.

The government did set up the Healing Foundation and put a bit more $26 million into the running of that foundation. It is important to note that the funding for the foundation finishes in June 2013. It is very important that the government commit to keep on funding that foundation, because that work is only just starting to bear fruit. It takes a lot for projects to gain the trust of the communities, and also for communities to develop community owned projects research has shown to be so important. These projects are one of the key things that research is showing to be important. If we are really going to get policies that adequately address the issues of Closing the Gap, of disempowerment, of intergenerational trauma, the key thing we need to be doing is empowering communities to develop projects and to manage the projects that are culturally appropriate for their regions. That is what the Healing Foundation is trying to do.

Further work that highlights some of the problems in delivering funding that will make a difference is in Olga Havnen's report. Until she was sacked by the Northern Territory government, Ms Havnen was looking at the provision of remote services in the Northern Territory. Her report clearly highlights fundamental problems with getting change on the ground and highlights the fact that we need to be doing things differently. I notice that this report is not addressed here. I also notice an issue about which I am particularly passionate, the impact of otitis media on Aboriginal children, is not addressed. These children have subsequent poor life outcomes. You do not have to be Einstein to realise that there is a high rate of people in the criminal justice system with hearing impairment—90 per cent of Aboriginal prisoners in the Darwin Correctional Centre have a hearing impairment. You do not have to be Einstein to work out that there is something going on. Why aren't we addressing that problem at source? We should not just be concentrating on health outcomes—although those outcomes are very important. We need to join the dots to look at how we then deliver early intervention in very early childhood to make sure those children are developing the language-processing skills that are needed so that when they start their first day at school they are ready and prepared, like their non-Indigenous colleagues. They need to be able to hear the teacher and understand the process. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.