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Lunch address on the Tiwi Islands.

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20 February 2001


Subjects: Aboriginal health, education and childcare


Well thank you very much. Janette and I are really very moved to have the opportunity of spending a few hours on this beautiful island. It is my first ever visit and I gather the second visit ever by a serving Prime Minister.

I have been very heartened by what I�ve heard and what I�ve seen and what I�ve felt over the last few hours. Not only was I touched by the warm and spontaneous welcome but it is clear from what people have said both here at lunch and also as I�ve moved around the island and as I�ve observed the facilities on the island. It is very clear that many people, many Tiwi people and others associated with them and committed to improving their opportunities in life believe in a society where there is an appropriate balance between care and compassion on the one hand and self reliance on the other. And that is something that I believe in very strongly. The kind of Australia that I believe in is an Australia where you do look after and help people who need assistance but you always aim to promote the greatest degree of self-reliance and independence. Because unless people have self-reliance and independence they are robbed of dignity and they are robbed of self-respect. And there is mounting evidence that indigenous communities all around this country need the sort of opportunities to achieve economic independence and a control over their own lives that has clearly been achieved amongst the Tiwi people.

I don�t think it�s saying too much for me to remark that I was really quite thrilled when I visited that dialysis unit. I was equally thrilled when I visited the soon to be opened child care centre that will not only deal with childcare as we normally understand that expression but will also have a zero to twelve years of age total approach to caring for children, they�ll look at dietary problems. And I was so pleased to hear those significant improvements, the elimination or the dramatic reduction in the suicide rate because so often we hear the bad news stories about indigenous communities. We are told constantly that nothing is being achieved and that is sending the worst possible signal to the Australian community. Because if you tell a

population often enough that nothing is being achieved through the resources they commit to something they�ll want to stop committing those resources. That is human nature. But what is so important to me about what I�ve heard today and learnt is that progress is being made. That if you give people independence, you give people dignity and you give people the opportunity - where they can achieve it - to grab self reliance then they will do so.

I came here to express the gratitude of the Australian people in the context of the commemoration of the bombing of Darwin for the role of the Tiwi people in the defence of our country. Of how as Australians together we stood against the then enemy. Having come to this island to express that gratitude, on behalf of all of the Australian people I have learnt a lesson. I seem to be hearing a lot lately that I should learn lessons, seems to be the John Howard directed mantra of 2001. Well I have learnt a lesson today, I�ve learnt the lesson that having faith in giving communities control over their own lives delivers results. And that is something that I have believed in all my life.

There still remains an enormous gap between the health standards and opportunities of communities like this and the rest of Australia. And of education opportunities and employment opportunities. That�s the continuing reality but the good news is that gap is beginning to close and what matters is the direction in which you�re heading rather than the absolute comparison. And the direction in which we are heading is the right direction. And the sort of policies that have been spoken about today, not by me, but you all said it before I got up to speak. But I have to say I agree with just about everything that I heard and it�s rare that I go anywhere in Australian where I can honestly say that. But I did and I�m quite excited about the sense of commitment you have to working together.

One of the great things about the Territory is that it�s a living, a vivid example of how people of different racial backgrounds can work together as Australians. And the notion of working together as a cosmopolitan community is something that the Territory understood long before the more modern words to describe that were thought of and I think you�ve been a great demonstration of that down through the years. So can I say to all of you wonderful people, it�s been a real privilege for me to come here today. I�ve enjoyed it, I�m cheered by it, I�m encouraged by it. It reinforces my faith in the sort of things that we�ve been arguing for and I know Michael Wooldridge as Health Minister and Larry Anthony and others have close contact with the people of this island and the Tiwi people.

And I wish you well, I want to come back one day and see even more progress and even more achievement and hear even more positive stories. But Janette and I say thankyou, not only for what you did for our country all those years ago but for the living example you are of how if you combine compassion and self reliance you can conquer all manner of disabilities and disadvantages.



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