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Thursday, 8 February 2007
Page: 8


Ms KATE ELLIS (12:35 PM) —As the South Australian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation pointed out in the state parliament this week, this is a year of very significant anniversaries when it comes to Aboriginal affairs in this nation. This year marks the 40th anniversary of our referendum of 27 May 1967. As we know, on this date Australians voted overwhelmingly to change our Constitution to exclude discriminatory references to our Indigenous community, including the line that ‘Aboriginal natives shall not be counted’. It is this referendum result which has been said to give the federal government a clear mandate to implement policies to benefit Aboriginal Australia.

This year also marks the 10th anniversary of the Bringing them home report, an important report on the devastating consequences of government sanctioned policies of removal of Aboriginal children from their parents. In light of these significant anniversaries, I think that this is a very appropriate time for us to reflect on the reconciliation process, the progress that has been made to date and the next steps which must be taken.

On Sunday I had the opportunity to speak at the book launch of a local South Australian author’s first novel. Dr Nicholas Fourikis’s Hollywood Amarroo is an interesting story of life in a 1968 Australian country town. The majority of the book is set in Amarroo, an outback country town, and Hollywood, the Aboriginal reserve which lies on its outskirts. The story deals with prejudice and Australian community attitudes and with our justice system.

This book was set almost a decade before I was born. When I set about reading it, I expected to be shocked and shamed by the attitudes of white Australia towards Indigenous Australians and the living standards of the Aboriginal community. Sadly, what caused my shame was instead the realisation that there were so many parts of this book that could have just as easily been set in today’s Australia.

You may recall the media coverage last year when elder in residence at Griffith University, Ms Delmore Barton, collapsed on the footpath outside the university, and for hours and hours she lay in her own vomit as passers-by just looked at her and walked on. It was not until some Japanese tourists stopped to help that she was eventually taken to hospital. This was not in a country town in 1968, as in the book I have just mentioned—it was in a capital city university in 2006. So it is very clear that we still have a very long road to travel.

A look at some quick facts reinforces this. Indigenous infants today are almost three times more likely to die than non-Indigenous infants. Indigenous Australians have an average life expectancy 17 years less than that of non-Indigenous Australians. Rates of chlamydia and syphilis infection among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are up to 93 times the rate among other Australians. Aboriginal women and children continue to suffer completely unacceptable levels of violence in both their communities and their homes. So it is very clear that all of us in this place have much more to do.

It is easy to grow despondent over these issues. It is easy to look at these statistics and throw our hands up and think that it is all too hard, but the truth is that we cannot afford to do this. We must all work to ensure that the plight of Aboriginal Australia does not again become a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. We must recognise that not urgently and aggressively tackling these issues is a shameful reflection upon all of us, particularly upon all of us in this parliament.

We have absolutely made some progress. Practical measures have been trialled and rolled out and the hundreds and thousands of Australians who marched for reconciliation in 2000 show us that community attitudes have significantly changed, but we have not done enough.

I place on the record today my enormous disappointment at the way this government have allowed true and meaningful reconciliation to drop off the mainstream public agenda. When just a few years ago this was an issue of major public discussion and concern, when people were becoming part of enormous public demonstrations and loudly calling for a formal apology, this government and this Prime Minister have tried to scale back this issue to make it one just of law and order. It is so much more than that. We must all realise that to achieve true healing and reconciliation we must first give recognition and an apology for the wrongs that have been committed. I know that it is my intention to work until we have a government that is prepared to prioritise this issue and tackle it head-on for real results and reconciliation. There is a role here for all of us to do more. (Time expired)