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Thursday, 14 February 2008
Page: 466


Mr LINDSAY (12:06 PM) —I would not have missed attending the parliament yesterday morning. It was in fact a historic day. Over the last 12 years I have been privileged to take part in many important events in the parliament. Yesterday was as good as anything that I have seen in the last 12 years. I am not ashamed to say that tears were rolling down my cheeks—it was such an event. Unfortunately, I am disappointed to say that I think the day was spoiled. There was an opportunity to not have the day spoiled. The day was spoiled when a significant number of Indigenous Australians and others who were participating in the historic day refused to accept that both sides of the parliament offered a sincere and genuine apology. What they did was not gracious; it spoilt the day.

The activists, the do-gooders and the Howard-haters have done a great disservice, in my view, to Indigenous Australians. They clearly did not realise they were turning their backs on the ability of our nation to put the past behind us. They want division and confrontation to continue. As a nation, we do not want that. Yesterday was a day when all Australians, no matter what their views were, could put those views behind them and walk together into the future for the benefit of our Indigenous brothers and sisters. It now appears that the back-turning was coordinated at rallies around the country. That spoilt the day, and that is very sad indeed. It signals to me—this is my greatest fear realised—that there is now little hope that anything is really going to change. A big day in the parliament, enormous goodwill, and we are not going to see any change. That really concerns me.

Let me relate to the parliament now some information about another Indigenous community. Two weeks ago I spent a week with the Indigenous community in Vanuatu. Vanuatu is a Melanesian community. Let me tell the parliament what I found about that community and the contrast between them and our own Indigenous community. In Vanuatu, everyone owns their own piece of land—everyone. They have their little plot in the village, no matter where it is. If they want to sell it, they can sell it. If they want to deal in it, if they want to move to another village, they can go and buy another piece of land in that village. And because they own their own land, individually, they take great pride in it. Of course, that does not happen in Indigenous Australia. They all build their own homes. They do not rely on the government to build something; they build it themselves. And, again, because it is their labour and their place, they take great care of it—and there is a contrast there with Indigenous Australians. Moreover, the village is always clean and tidy; the homes are clean and tidy. The pride is evident.

In Vanuatu, everyone works. They may work in the village garden or their own garden, but they work and they contribute and they feed their families. There is no social security in Vanuatu. There is no welfare. There are no handouts. There is no demand, ‘Just send us money.’ They are self-reliant; they look after themselves. They look after themselves very well. And, because of that, their health is in good order. Their life expectancy is in good shape. Compare that with Indigenous Australians. There is no alcoholism. People do not drink themselves stupid. Yes, they have kava, but they use it in a responsible way. There is superb leadership in the communities. There is always a village chief and there is always respect for the village chief. The village chief calls the village together when important decisions are to be made, and they all participate in making the decision, and they all stick by the decision that is made by the village. It is quite a contrast.

Another compelling contrast is in education. In Vanuatu, the government does not provide free education. Everyone has to pay to go to school, and that includes primary school. Do you know what the indigenous in Vanuatu do? They scrimp and save and work hard, and they raise the money, because they are determined that every one of their children will go to school. And they go to school. What happens in Indigenous Australia where education is free? The kids do not go to school.

It is a chalk and cheese comparison. I am reminded of a visit that I made to the Federated States of Micronesia where, again, it is a Melanesian indigenous culture. But here is the difference: the United States just sends money, and that is how the Federated States work—they rely on the drip-feed from the United States. Do you know what that has caused for the indigenous people in that area? They have lost their farming skills. They just expect to have their food sent to them. Remind you of anything? It certainly reminds me of something, and great Aboriginal leaders like Noel Pearson have reflected on the same issue.

So what do we do about it? I have, for a long time, articulated that there are really three things that are needed in Indigenous communities before you will be able to fix the health problems and the education problems. Those three things are law, order and governance. Until Indigenous communities respect law and order and respect that governance has not got to be about nepotism and who you can favour, there will be no change. Until there is land ownership, there will be no change. And, of course, from land ownership come pride, economic prosperity and jobs. The final thing is leadership. Without strong leadership and without the will to follow that leadership in Indigenous communities, nothing will change. That is really sad.

So I grieve personally and I grieve on behalf of my community of 8,000 Indigenous Australians that, while things could be better, given the way we are going they are not going to be. It is a kind of fatalistic point of view, but I think we have to address the issues that I have indicated to the parliament today, and state governments have a responsibility to do so equal to that of the federal government. If we do not fix law and order, governance, landownership and leadership, in 100 years time someone will be standing in my place in this parliament saying, ‘Things are disgraceful in Indigenous communities’ as they will not have changed.

I want to leave the parliament this afternoon with a quote from comments made by the Reverend Shayne Blackman, who leads the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress and also Shalom Christian College in Townsville, which is in my electorate. Shayne makes this observation:

There can be no better expression of an apology for the mistakes of the past—

than—

a commitment to programs and policies that truly deliver on our lifelong hopes and dreams for the future.

That is an incisive comment from an Indigenous leader in North Queensland. I support Shayne Blackman’s comments, but I support very much fixing law and order and governance, landownership and leadership in Indigenous communities.