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Thursday, 14 February 2008
Page: 444


Ms MACKLIN (Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs) (10:24 AM) —by leave—I thank honourable members opposite for their generosity in allowing me to continue my remarks on the apology to the stolen generations. To do this we must recognise that what works in the Pitjantjatjara lands will not automatically work in Redfern. What is needed is a flexible, innovative approach that factors in the specific circumstances of each Indigenous community to achieve our national objectives. We have already started. We are providing comprehensive funding for child and maternal health services, early development and parenting support, and literacy and numeracy in the early years. Health services are being improved and expanded. This includes upgrading remote health clinics and extending sexual assault counselling and renal dialysis services. We are prioritising the expansion of alcohol detoxification and rehabilitation services across the Northern Territory to deliver more detox beds and more health workers to treat people who have alcohol addiction. We are also expanding sobering-up shelters in Katherine and Tennant Creek so that alcohol abusers can be accommodated in a safe environment. Over the next five years we will make sure that every Indigenous four-year-old has access to early childhood education with proper pre-literacy and pre-numeracy programs. Giving Indigenous children the best chance for a bright future requires a sound foundation of education and training. Literacy and numeracy are the building blocks, but currently the performance of Indigenous children often falls behind. To improve attendance rates at school we are funding 200 additional teachers in the Northern Territory and working with all state and territory governments to boost attendance and to make sure there are enough classrooms. We know the practical challenges are immense. It is a big job; but we must, and I am convinced we can, get it right.

Yesterday also signalled what I truly hope will be a new era of bipartisan support for Indigenous issues. This is too important to be politicised. We must all rise above politics. As the Prime Minister said, we should ‘elevate this one core area of national responsibility to a rare position beyond the partisan divide’. As a sign of our commitment to a fresh, bipartisan approach, we are proposing a joint policy commission to be chaired by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. Our first task is to develop and implement an effective housing strategy for remote communities over the next five years. Housing is vital to closing the gap. You cannot improve people’s health or give Indigenous kids a good education or expect them to be part of the workforce if they do not have a decent roof over their heads—proper housing so that children can sleep safely at night, so they can do their homework when they get home from school, where mums and dads can raise their kids without the pressures of the severe overcrowding that currently exists.

As I said at the outset, this has been a very long time coming. It has not been an easy journey. At times it seemed that we would not make it and the fact is that, when we did, we gave testimony to the strength, courage and determination of many, many people. The same strength, courage and determination will be needed for the tough task ahead. I have no illusions about the extent and complexity of the challenge that lies before us, but neither do I doubt that it has to be done. And no-one should ever doubt the government’s resolve to get that job done.

It is our passion to build a fair and just Australia so that we have a nation where a child growing up in Sydney or a child growing up in the Kimberley can look forward to the same future, where it does not matter, it does not make any difference, whether you were born in the bush or in the city; a nation where good health and a decent education do not depend on geography or race and where opportunity stretches right across this huge country of ours, from Bidyadanga to Wreck Bay; a nation where all our children can look back at the past with honesty and pride and understand that on 13 February 2008 Australia was big enough to squarely face the wrongs of the past, to say sorry and to move on; a nation where all of our children recognise the significance of that day in the desert when the ‘big man’ gave back the ancient Gurindji land and the sand trickled through Vincent Lingiari’s fingers; and a nation where all of us can go forward together as true friends and equals.