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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 1805

Mr HAASE (Durack) (17:04): It gives me a great deal of pleasure to speak to the Social Security Legislation Amendment Bill 2011. The first item I would like to address is the statement from my colleague the member for Aston. I agree with 99.9 per cent of everything he said, apart from the oft repeated phrase that no-one in any culture makes a future out of welfare. I can assure him that in the seat of Durack there are many environments where individuals make a great deal of money out of welfare. They are all responsible for taking money out of Indigenous pockets and putting it into white pockets. They rub their hands together with glee every time there is another welfare policy devised by federal government. We have ample evidence to suggest that only a minimal number of projects—out of the many which have been amply funded by the federal taxpayer—have made a substantial difference to the ongoing welfare and future direction of Indigenous people across Australia. That is the issue we need to address in our debate in this place.

Listeners and viewers would be well aware that in opposition we have very little control over the policies proposed by the government. This proposition alone simply gives further carriage and guarantee to propositions put together by the Howard government. Had many of those propositions not been watered down so severely in the early days, I suggest we may have been a little further down the road of progress, a little further down the road of giving back self-esteem to Indigenous people in engaging with Western society and moving forward removed from the necessity of the welfare paddock.

Jackie Dann from the West Kimberley in a paper years ago said, 'Release us from the welfare paddock. You are destroying our culture, you are destroying us as individuals.' So true were his statements, but so little has changed if we speak of the period since the late 60s. Yes, we have addressed infant mortality in a very powerful way. Yes, we have addressed life expectancy in a substantial way. But if you go to the readily found examples you will find no great improvement in housing, no great improvement in school accommodation, no great improvement on education attained when concluding formal education and no reduction in incarceration. We have too much knowledge of the failure of individual Indigenous people and their collective communities and to date we have too little evidence of high achievement, except in some outstanding cases for individuals. It is that collective that we in this place are responsible for assisting and directing.

Much has been said recently about closing the gap, but is there among departmental personnel who reside in Canberra a great wealth of knowledge about and commitment to that very decision to close the gap? I ask a very rational question: what motivation is there for a department exclusively responsible for the wellbeing of Indigenous people to solve all the problems associated with the welfare of Indigenous people? I believe that people with foresight, vision and a sound mind might look to a future where government departments all over this nation specifically responsible for Indigenous affairs and their advancement install a sunset clause on the very existence of their agencies with a guarantee that those employees would move to other departments, without being disadvantaged, at a particular point in time—a particularly point in time not measured by achievement but by a fixed date in the future. Everyone would be pressured to work to a conclusion that was satisfactory because they would know that the task was to be finished.

It is a rather severe point that I make but, until such time as there is a major shake-up of existing Indigenous policy in the areas of housing, welfare, education, health et cetera, what are we going to find that will act as a catalyst for change? Many interested in the subject will know the intervention across Northern Australia was such a catalyst. It was a very necessary change that was brought about by a shocking report that revealed abuse of the youngest and most vulnerable in Indigenous communities. That was in part a catalyst, but it is quite obviously not enough because not enough change has taken place. Is it the fault of those employees of departments who are responsible for making contact and are very concerned that they need to cement those relationships face to face with a friendly embrace? Is it the fault of the individuals at a higher level for delegating the employees to particular tasks? Is it the responsibility of yet higher authorities for developing these one-size-fits-all solutions? I suggest it is a combination of many of those aspects, but basically we have a condition that I call box ticking. Many people that are removed from the day-to-day shock and horror of Indigenous communities find it very easy to scurry into these communities, consult briefly, tick some boxes and go back to comfortable suburbia. It does Indigenous people no good. It does our reputation as legislators no good. It does nothing to improve the status and reputation of so many government agencies.

In my electorate of Durack, where approximately 14 per cent of the population are Indigenous, I see replication of agency visits on a day-to-day basis. A stream of white Falcons or Holdens make a beeline to communities. They all consult; they all tick the box; and they all leave again.

Mr Laming: Seagulls.

Mr HAASE: My colleague reminds me the ones that fly in on a regular basis are more aptly referred to as seagulls. Indigenous people are sick and tired of them. They are sick and tired of being told that the task is easy—nominate, volunteer, participate—and then, because that particular program fails, the individuals involved are criticised for being worthless. The tolerance of members of remote Indigenous communities wears thin. They have been tested, trained, put over the hurdles, cajoled and accused time and time again.

The last time that we saw a quantum leap in the advancement and wellbeing of Indigenous people after the arrival of the First Fleet was probably the arrival of the missionaries across remote Australia. At that point in time education was given. Guidance that was believed to be necessary for assimilation was given. The outcomes of course were much less than the expectations of those missionaries involved, but their intent was great and good and their commitment was great and good. The criticism that they have had heaped upon them since those day is in the main unjustified. I know that in my original patch of Kalgoorlie in the Eastern Goldfields all of the successfully employed and deployed Indigenous people had a solid grounding of education in mission schools—Mount Margaret, Warakurna, Warburton. Further north into the Kimberley there were remarkable institutions such as Balgo, Beagle Bay, Forrest River, Kalumburu. They were establishments that taught. They did not strive for an 18-month or two-year cultural experience to enjoy the romance of it all and then go back home and dine out on it for the next 20 years, which is so often the case today. They were actually committed to the task. They then were often pilloried for their involvement in conditions that were considered unacceptable to the delicate nature of urban dwellers. Today, we are faced with a debate on legislation that is once again going to regulate the behaviour of Indigenous communities. As I said, in the main it is regulation that was introduced by the Howard government as a matter of necessity. It was necessary then, it is necessary now and it should be embraced. Any opportunity to impose more rigour on that legislation should be taken, because as legislators we cannot afford to simply wish to avoid offence. There has been far too much of that on the part of legislators in the past.

My Indigenous friends across the Durack electorate understand discipline. They understand the necessity for rigour. They understand the necessity for their children and grandchildren to get an education. I am speaking in the main of those people who got their education at the hands of the missionaries and got jobs on pastoral stations. Those people absolutely deplore the current situation where sit-down money is paid. There is no rigour in expectations of the performance of Indigenous individuals or collective communities.

There is very little respect for the concept of mutual obligation. There is almost an epidemic condition where people say, 'We may be expected by departments on high to make a performance at such and such a level, but past experience tells us that we will never be expected to reach that level so why should it bother.' That condition and that experience do not teach discipline. It does not teach the individual that they will stand out in a group by putting their shoulder to the wheel and going the extra yard, and being rewarded for it. They will more likely remember the experience of sticking their head up and being noticed, and possibly having their head knocked off, figuratively speaking, because they took the initiative to do something.

All of our policies to date have been more about ticking boxes, presuming that those who are ignorant of the real conditions will accept our platitudes, our cheque-writing and our visitation as something that will seriously contribute to the betterment of Indigenous people. The reality is that it could not be further from the truth. What we need is a number of people who are truly committed to getting a job done, a number of people whose continued employment will depend on their performance rather than their processing of numbers. We need a group of people who understand rigour and the necessity for it to realise great outcomes for communities. We need a group of people who understand that without rigour Indigenous people will have no respect whatsoever for the agents of change that are visiting their communities.

Madam Deputy Speaker Livermore, I know that you know I speak from experience and I speak from the heart, but it is an ongoing and long-term project to educate all the members of this House as to what really should be done and what really is expected in remote Indigenous communities across Australia. The most important ingredient I believe is rigour. That rigour must be found in all dealings we have with those communities. The first step in the development of a human being is education. If we do not get that education right and if we do not make that process attractive for the families of Indigenous children, they will never be engaged in the process of insisting that their children attend school. This legislation will make some small contribution if applied with rigour to ensure that that is the outcome and individuals get their lives back.