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Tuesday, 24 February 2015
Page: 1178

Mr HAYES (FowlerChief Opposition Whip) (20:09): I would like to start my contribution by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land, and I pay my respects to elders past and present. Earlier this month, the Prime Minister handed down the seventh Closing the gap report, a practice which has been a bipartisan commitment in this parliament. Both sides of parliament have adopted closing the gap as common ground. The disparity between the mainstream Australian and the Aboriginal community is and remains a blight on our society. However, with over $500 million being cut from Indigenous affairs programs, as announced in last year's budget, which will seriously impact on thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and threaten the provision of essential services, this is hardly a great place to start when we are here to talk about closing the gap.

I represent a very diverse community in south-west Sydney. More than 2,000 people in my electorate identify themselves as being of Indigenous descent. The majority of the Aboriginal people in my electorate live in Liverpool, an area of great diversity, but it is also an area that has a significant proportion of socially and economically disadvantaged families, many of whom struggle in accessing mainstream services such as health, education and employment.

Under the former Labor government, we worked pretty hard to implement the national Indigenous reform agenda in 2008. We identified the six areas of critical importance to Indigenous communities. These include life expectancy; the mortality of children under five; access to early childhood education; reading, writing and numeracy; year 12 attainment rates; and employment outcomes.

Seven years on, yes, we can see that progress has been made in high school attainment, infant mortality rates and early childhood education. However, there is no denying the fact that we have a long way to go in truly meeting our targets. The funding uncertainty for critical programs should not be allowed to frustrate our collective efforts in meeting our targets in this respect. Closing the gap is critically important and deserves a thorough review of the efforts to achieve these results.

In saying that, you just cannot ignore the fact that this government has slashed $165 million from the Indigenous health programs and is also cutting $3.6 million from the Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Program. Given the importance of this particular issue to my community in south-west Sydney, I would like to focus a little bit of my contribution on the prevention of family violence.

Indigenous women and children are more likely than other groups in our society to experience family violence. In fact, Indigenous women are 35 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of family violence and/or die as a consequence. As a caring nation, we simply have a responsibility to put an end to these senseless acts of violence which divide many households, scar children and claim the lives of so many Aboriginal women.

For some time now I have been working very closely with a group called Sistas for Sistas. This group is led by Rosheen Saunders. Rosheen and her members have done a tremendous job in raising awareness of domestic violence in Indigenous families through a program called Aboriginal Women Against Violence, which is run by the Joan Harrison Support Services for Women, based in Liverpool.

Over the years, more and more Indigenous women, who have been victims of family violence, have come together to not only openly talk about their experiences but to also join the campaign against domestic violence. My community is very fortunate as we have a number of organisations and some exceptional people that are committed to making a difference to the lives of local Aboriginal people. This includes the KARI Aboriginal Resources, which is a leading Aboriginal children's service provider in New South Wales. This organisation has operated in Liverpool since 1999, recruiting and training Aboriginal foster carers and providing shared-care for Aboriginal children and youth requiring out-of-home care.

I would like to commend Paul Ralph, the founding member and current CEO of KARI, and his dedicated team for their efforts in safeguarding the rights of Aboriginal children. They are making a difference for the better in our community. My electorate is also home to the Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council, which provides a range of social services to the Indigenous community. I would like to acknowledge the great work being done by Jack Johnson, Nancy Davis and Rae Stewart for their vision in building the long-term independence Aboriginal people in my community.

When speaking about support to the Aboriginal community in south-west Sydney, I must acknowledge a very committed and most determined Catholic nun, Sister Kerry McDermott, a strong advocate with a compassionate heart and committed to raising awareness and understanding of issues relevant to our Indigenous community.

Sadly, many of these committed people are facing an agonising wait to find out whether the funding for their important services and programs will be continued. We just simply cannot afford to slash funding to vital services if we are serious about closing the gap. It is simply not good enough to say we are making progress; we need to be totally committed when dealing with this unjust and indefensible inequity in our community.

If the government is to be taken seriously with respect to closing the gap, I encourage it to reconsider the impacts that cutting vital front-line services will have on the wellbeing of Aboriginal people.