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'No progress' made in remote Indigenous commu -

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'No progress' made in remote Indigenous communities

Reporter: Barrie Cassidy

As hard as it is to believe in retrospect, just four decades ago, Aborigines were not counted as
citizens. But at a referendum in 1967 - 40 years to the day - more than 90 per cent of Australians
voted 'yes' to rectify the situation. Ceremonies are being held around Australia to mark the event
and Minister for Indigenous Affairs Mal Brough will attend some of them in Canberra. Before doing
so, he spoke with Barrie Cassidy.

Transcript

BARRIE CASSIDY, PRESENTER: As hard as it is to believe in retrospect, just four decades ago,
Aborigines were not counted as citizens. But at a Referendum in 1967 - 40 years to the day - more
than 90 per cent of Australians voted 'Yes' to rectify the situation.

There are ceremonies being conducted around Australia today to mark the event. The Minister for
Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough, will be attending some of them in Canberra as we speak.

So earlier this morning, I caught up with him in our Parliament House studio.

Minister, good morning and welcome.

MAL BROUGH, FEDERAL MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS: Good to be with you, Barrie.

BARRIE CASSIDY: How much have we really done as a nation, in the past 40 years, to address the root
causes of Aboriginal disadvantage?

MAL BROUGH: Well it's a good question, and it's really in two parts. In the cities, and the major
regional centres, there has been enormous progress. Today we actually have an Aboriginal surgeon,
which would have been unthought of, back in 1967. There are hundreds, thousands of Indigenous
people that have been through university, who've got you know houses, all of the normal things that
the rest of take for granted. Jobs, trades, etcetera.

But then there is the other side of the coin. Those in the remote communities, and those in what is
commonly known as the 'long grass', in other words, the fringes of town. And there has been I
believe not just no progress, but in some cases, we've gone backwards.

BARRIE CASSIDY: And the most graphic demonstration of that I suppose is the failure on the 17-year
gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians?

MAL BROUGH: Yeah, and I mean again, it's in two parts. We have about 450,000 people who identify as
Indigenous in this country, and about 150,000 live in the circumstances that I just explained. The
majority live in the cities, and they have no reason why they shouldn't have the same life
expectancy as the rest of us.

They have to have access, I might add, to mainstream services, and in some cases, there is still a
long way to go to achieve that. But it's the remote communities that really need the assistance.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Why is this though still such a significant problem? You've been in office for 11
years, is it just too hard?

MAL BROUGH: No, it hasn't been that at all. It's that the majority of time that we've been in
office, ATSIC had the responsibility as an elected Indigenous body to actually look after the
welfare of the majority of Indigenous people.

And it failed miserably, that's why I'm totally opposed, as are most Indigenous people, to the
Labor Party saying they want to bring back another body to takeover the responsibility that is
mine, as minister, or whoever else might be in that place of the government of the day. Don't give
your, advocate your responsibility as government members to an elected body and say, "Well, they
failed".

BARRIE CASSIDY: But what have you done since ATSIC departed the scene? What have you done to
address specifically that problem?

MAL BROUGH: Sure. Look, there's been enormous progress, in the last Budget we've just put in $750
million of new money and extended programs. Going to the heart of the issues, now I know that you
have the AMA, who will say what you really need is a huge injection into health.

But can I tell you, you often get a health outcome, a social outcome, an educational outcome, if
you address the holistic problem through housing, through financial management, and through
producing social norms, you can create those environments. We're doing these sort of the things
today in Wadeye, in Tiwi, Hopevale, we're talking to the people of Galiwinku. Almost $40,000 for
every man, woman and child, $40,000 for every man, woman and child who is a permanent resident of
the town camps of Alice Springs was the amount of money the Commonwealth put on the table to try to
dramatically turn around their lives. There is a point here, Barrie. In that case, that money was
rejected.

And the Commonwealth and the state and the territory governments or the wider population cannot do
this unless some personal responsibility is taken by the people who live in these circumstances.

BARRIE CASSIDY: We'll return to Alice Springs in a moment. Just on this 17-year gap, the Labor
Party says that that can be closed in a generation. Do you think that's achievable?

MAL BROUGH: Yes, it is achievable. But not by just saying it. We all know about no child will live
in poverty by the year 1990. It's a great thing to aspire to, but I can start rattling off the
communities that have no police in them. Therefore, the children are at great risk.

Kalambura, more than 10 per cent of the male population has been charged in the last two months
with child sex offences. Just think about that for a moment. We talk about helping people with
their health. We have circumstances prevailing in communities which can be stopped but you have to
have first of all law and order, secondly, you have to have good governance and the housing that
flows from that then is maintained and educational standards are also attained. So it's no good
just making statements unless you have the hard policy that actually backs it up.

BARRIE CASSIDY: But I'm interested to hear you saying that it is achievable. That it can be done
with the right political will.

MAL BROUGH: Absolutely. Let me give you Wadeye. This time last year or just a little earlier, back
in March, that community was rioting. They'd destroyed 25 houses. One Indigenous man speared
another Indigenous man. Young boys were being hit over the heads with hunks of wood.

Today, that's a safe community which is looking at and is in fact buying its own homes, school
attendance is up but not where I'd like it to be, and people are actually asking for jobs and
turning their lives around. That hasn't happened in 20 years, it's happened in one year and the
elders are driving that they are regaining their position of importance in the community. And
they're leading their communities. And that is just a demonstration of what can be achieved.

BARRIE CASSIDY: The other aim of that the Labor Party plans to spell out today is that they can
half the rate at which Indigenous children die before the age of 5 and they can do that in 10
years. Do you think that possible?

MAL BROUGH: Well again, I believe it can be done even quicker than that, but community by
community. The one thing I have learned very quickly is Barrie that if you just try to roll out a
program, what happens in the Tiwi Islands and its unique circumstances will be entirely different
to the central desert or Arnhem Land for that matter or Cape York.

So you have to go to each community, sit down with the leadership, you have to work on a holistic
approach, not targeting one or two issues, but the whole issue. It needs leadership, and it needs
direction, and it needs support from the wider community.

BARRIE CASSIDY: You mentioned how much you spend on Aboriginal health, but Lowitja O'Donohue said
during the week that you plan to spend more on the citizenship test than you do on Aboriginal
health.

MAL BROUGH: See she is just simply wrong, and she was wrong on so many things she said in the Great
Hall the other day. One of the problems with what she said is that every Australian should have the
same access as you and I do to the hospital, dental services, the child care services, and the
employment services.

And I have the National Indigenous Council headed up by Sue Gordon, who is working right now to try
and give the State Government's and the Federal Departments a better plan to ensure that occurs.
They do not have to be specific Indigenous programs. We have to ensure that every Australian has
the right and the capability to access the services that are already there. The specific Indigenous
programs need to be going where there are no mainstream services and they are into the remote parts
of this nation.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Well maybe the citizenship test is not the right comparison. What about Government
advertising? $127 million a year on average. Do you spend more on Government advertising than you
do on Aboriginal health?

MAL BROUGH: No, that's just wrong again. These sort of rhetoric type comments don't actually help
Indigenous people get on...

BARRIE CASSIDY: What do you spend on Aboriginal health per year?

MAL BROUGH: Once again, when people say to me and when Indigenous people talk to me and say "We
want to access whatever it may be, a health outcome, an educational outcome", they have been
conditioned to just look at the Indigenous pot of money.

What makes an Indigenous person, which is more than two thirds of the Australian Indigenous
population living in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, from being able to access the mainstream
services, they are there as well. The Aboriginal specific programs are on top of that. So it is
absolutely wrong for anyone to make the accusation that if you're operating out of some of the
suburbs of Brisbane, such as Aspley, for argument's sake, you must go to an Indigenous service.

You go to the local hospital and that service must be provided in a culturally sensitive way for
you. And so therefore when you talk about Indigenous specific health measures you really take this
and put an apartheid overlay on it and that's wrong.

BARRIE CASSIDY: You were talking earlier in the week about wanting all indigenous kids to speak
English. The Labor Party agrees with that in principle of course, but how will you achieve this?
Surely the key to this is ensuring that they actually go to school. Into the whole lot done has
been done on that either over the years?

MAL BROUGH: Well no, not over the years, I'm putting a huge focus on that. And the reason I'm doing
it is because I see too many and I hear from too many grandparents in Indigenous communities who
say to me "Why is it that the white authority, the state and territory governments, do not treat us
the same as white families?" And I ask the question "What do you mean?", and they say, "You see a
white child not to go school, the authorities take action but when that happens with a black child,
no one does."

And there was no more stark reality than the State Labor Government in Queensland last week signing
a pact, a community pact with the people of Mornington Island with the lofty goal of getting just
75 per cent of Indigenous kids to school. What about the other one in four? You have to aspire to
100.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Yes but surely people have been saying precisely that, to the Ministers for
Aboriginal Affairs in this Government, now for 11 years?

MAL BROUGH: No, they haven't. I don't think people have actually lifted the scab off the problem at
all. People say, "You're kidding me, Indigenous children can't speak English?" and well, it's a
reality.

What we are doing, and what we did in the last Budget, are practical measures, things such as
building hostels up in the Kimberley, improving the hostels in Darwin, putting money into the
Clontarf Foundation, more Indigenous scholarships, more Indigenous hostel type schooling situations
with our key schools in the major cities.

On top of that, we have initiatives out into these communities. People like the Aussie Rules and
the Rugby League stars, not just blowing in, blowing out but having a long term association with
the AFL and the NRL, encouraging and working with the schools. And one other thing that we've just
started to initiate, which the rest of us take for granted, is that we are going to have the
national seniors going to places like Daly River, Wadeye, Hopevale and working with the school
teachers, former school teachers, helping put more resource, more human resources on the ground to
help that happen. We are doing a lot. But we do need the states and territory governments simply to
abide by the laws that they have in place.

BARRIE CASSIDY: I want to ask you about the Northern Land Council decision that they've nominated a
site in the Northern Territory for a Commonwealth nuclear waste facility, for which they'll receive
around $12 million. This is not a done deal, though, that simply puts that site in the mix with
other options?

MAL BROUGH: That's right.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Would you, though, be urging the Federal Government to pick up on this particular
option because of the benefit that flows to the station?

MAL BROUGH: That's a good by product but this is a decision for the traditional owners. They've
clearly made it clear they want to make the site available. From all information that I have
through the Northern Land Council (NLC), they are looking at a better life for themselves, and
anything, any economic benefit that is going to be derived by remote communities I would fully
support. But not at the expense of having a location which is inappropriate for its geology or
anything else.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Are you satisfied though, that this is genuinely the view of the overwhelming
majority of people on the station, because Peter Garrett has said that only a handful were
consulted?

MAL BROUGH: Look, this is the sort of stuff you get from Peter Garrett all the time and from
others. No matter when I consult, consulted with the Tiwis for 14 months and they did two years of
consultation before they signed up with the Federal Government for a 99-year lease back. There are
always those that snipe from the side and say, "Not enough consultation". You name one circumstance
for me, which requires a unanimous vote of all of the participants in this nation. It doesn't
happen.

BARRIE CASSIDY: But how overwhelming do you think the support is on the station?

MAL BROUGH: Yesterday, or earlier this week, the NLC had its meeting out there. They went through
all of its processes and the traditional owners have that made that decision. They take a heck of a
lot of consideration in coming to those decisions.

And having people like Peter Garrett who perhaps haven't even spoken to them making these
assertions is more about playing politics with their lives and about the whole issue than it is
about those people on the ground.

BARRIE CASSIDY: And speaking of politics, the news overnight that Therese Rein has decided to sell
the Australian arm of her company, do you think she did the right thing?

MAL BROUGH: That's a decision for Mr Rudd and Therese Rein. What I'm more concerned about Barrie is
the double standards and the hypocrisy that's applied here, where if this circumstance had occurred
with any other company, the Labor Party would've been in the Parliament ripping them to shred
shreds, not giving them one moment to be able to say this was as a mistake.

Just as they should be apologising today to the motel owner whose reputation has been trashed and
business has been damaged. That business doesn't have a big human resources department to ensure
they're paying the right wages. So I would ask the Labor Party to apologise to that business, and
to be more circumspect about how they deal with the reputation of small business people in this
country.

BARRIE CASSIDY: It looks as if you face a tough fight in Queensland. The chances are that the Labor
Party will make significant gains. Your seat is on about 6 per cent. That's taking into account the
Latham factor at the last election. It's going to be tough?

MAL BROUGH: It is going to be tough, no doubt about that. We've all known that for some time. I
think what we have a duty to do is ensure that the Australian public knows what our forward agenda
is, knows we can deliver that forward agenda and knows that the Labor Party not only has
inexperience but really has no capacity to continue to provide the good times that Australians have
enjoyed as far as .... my electorate has now 6.7 per cent unemployment Barrie. That's less than
half of what it was when I was elected.

Those are people and families with jobs. That's what this is all about. And a Coalition government
can and will continue to deliver that sort of prosperity to the people in my electorate and around
Australia.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Mal Brough, thanks for your time this morning.

MAL BROUGH: Good to be with you, Barrie.

(c) 2007 ABC