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Thursday, 26 June 2014
Page: 4074


Senator STERLE (Western Australia) (15:29): It does give me pleasure to follow on not from Senator Boyce's rambling diatribe of five minutes but from Senator McLucas's magnificent contribution. Senator McLucas, unlike Senator Boyce, does know what she is talking about. Unlike Senator Boyce, there are a lot of us in this building who do have a passion for doing everything we can to close the gap in Aboriginal disadvantage. We have to just tell the truth. I am not one that will play politics with Aboriginal—

Senator Abetz interjecting

Senator STERLE: Senator Abetz shows his ignorance. Coming from Tasmania as he does I do not know how much he knows about remote Aboriginal communities, but his scoffing and laughing at my commitment to Aboriginal disadvantage in closing the gap I find abhorrent. In fact, it would probably do Senator Abetz good to get out and familiarise himself with Aboriginal disadvantage issues, because they are huge in this nation.

We have to tell the truth, and the truth of the matter is that half a billion dollars has been taken out of Indigenous programs in the budget. We cannot deny that. I have to say very, very clearly that Senator Fierravanti-Wells—and I do not know how much she has got out of Sydney or Newcastle and gone into remote Aboriginal communities to see how they struggle—said that more money is not the solution. Taking half a billion dollars out of the budget will be a national disaster.

In the very short time that I have I welcome any interjections, if they are coming, because I speak from a basis of knowledge on this issue. We have found that some of the funding cuts in this cruel budget go to children and family centres. As a Western Australian I want to just mention five of them: the Roebourne Children and Family Centre; the Swan Children and Family Centre; the Fitzroy Crossing Children and Family Centre, which I had the wonderful opportunity to open with previous Minister Macklin; the Halls Creek Children and Family Centre, including the Little Nuggets Early Learning Centre; and the Kununurra Children and Family Centre. There is no more funding. It is as simple as that.

There is a bigger issue, and I say it is a bigger issue because I am one that supports remote communities. I know why Aboriginal people want to live on their country and why they live in remote communities. That side over there, back in the Howard days, had the view that Aboriginal people should all be herded into huge centres, particularly in the Kimberley, where they should all live in Derby, Broome or Kununurra. I remember Mr Turnbull, who was the environment minister at the time, being interviewed on Lateline and he was asked a question in relation to the intervention. He said, through ignorance rather than anything else—I do not think he meant to be spiteful—that all Aboriginal people should go to the big centres because that is where the jobs were. Fortunately, he is not the Aboriginal affairs minister.

Here is a very, very important fact. Senators on that side can fib as much as they like, but they cannot hide from this: in the 2013-14 budget the Labor government provided no less than $44.1 million to provide over 340 Aboriginal remote communities with a funding package that addressed municipal and essential services. Those of us that are fortunate enough to live in the leafy suburbs of cities where our rubbish is collected every day, our sewerage is at the end of a button and our power is at the end of switch may not realise what happens in remote Aboriginal communities. They do not have that luxury. It has to be funded. I say it quite clearly here, now, that that funding has disappeared.

The Commonwealth have been responsible for funding these essential services for 50 years. They now no longer want to do it. I have to say that my fear, if there is no Commonwealth funding in these 340 remote Aboriginal communities for these essential services, is about where the heck this money going to come from I speak with some authority as someone who has spent a heck of a lot of time in remote Aboriginal communities, this particularly through the Kimberley region of WA. The state governments will not pick up the bill. It is as simple as that. In my state—that once engine room of the economy as everyone likes to refer to it, which I still think it is—now, unfortunately, after six years of the Barnett Liberal government has lost its AAA credit rating. It has its priorities wrong. It is building monuments to itself on the Perth foreshore. So how the heck are these essential services going to be funded? I wish I could extend my speaking time.

Question agreed to.