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Monday, 22 September 2014
Page: 9968

Indigenous Affairs

Mr WYATT (Hasluck) (14:49): My question is to the Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister update the House on his visit to East Arnhem Land last week, and how is the government deepening its engagement with Indigenous Australians?

Mr ABBOTT (WarringahPrime Minister) (14:49): I thank the member for Hasluck for his question and I acknowledge his place of great honour in our country's history as the first Indigenous member of the House of Representatives. As many members would recall, during last year's election campaign I promised to spend a week in Yolngu country, and last week I kept that commitment. Along with the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator Scullion, and my parliamentary secretary, the member for Aston, we spent five working days in Gulkula, Yirrkala and Nhulunbuy. We were joined at different times by the Minister for Education, the Minister for Health, the Minister for Finance, the Minister for Veterans Affairs and also the Assistant Minister for Health and the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure, and of course the member for Hasluck himself was there. The relevant departmental secretaries were there too. For the best part of a week, Indigenous affairs was a key focus of government. This is a very good way of demonstrating to Indigenous people that their concerns have not been lost amongst those of the general community.

On Indigenous policy the government's priority is absolutely crystal clear—to get the kids to school, to get the adults to work and to keep communities safe. I wish to acknowledge the commitment of the Yolngu people to education, and I wish to acknowledge their determination to ensure that their land is an economic asset as well as a cultural and spiritual one. I also wish to acknowledge their yearning, along with the yearning of so many people, black and white, right around Australia for Indigenous recognition in our Constitution. This is a fully bipartisan cause and I do wish to thank the Leader of the Opposition for the constructive dialogue we have had on this subject. Most of all, I wish to thank Galarrwuy Yunupingu for the hospitality he showed to me and my colleagues over the last few days. He is of course one of our country's greatest ever Indigenous leaders. I am the seventh Prime Minister that Galarrwuy has dealt with. I acknowledge the goodwill of all my predecessors and I pledge to do what I can to build on their good work. I should also thank the Army for providing me and my colleagues with accommodation and catering, and I pledge, myself, to continue to spend a week a year in an Indigenous community as long as I remain in public life.