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Tuesday, 19 February 2019
Page: 13997

Mr SNOWDON (Lingiari) (17:02): This year's Closing the gap report reminds us, sadly, of how little progress we have made in addressing the structural inequality facing First Nations people in this country. Before I continue, I want to acknowledge the Ngambri and Ngunawal people, who are the traditional owners of this country, and acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands that I represent in this place across the electorate of Lingiari.

Now, there are some pleasing aspects of the report, or at least two: improvements to early childhood and year 12 retention. We can't deny that reality. It's very important that we applaud it. But, 11 years on, two of seven targets are only 'on track'. We need to ask ourselves why that is. We shouldn't be blaming the victims, as is often the case. We need to reflect upon what we are doing here. I think that as a nation it's an indictment on us all. If anything has failed, it's us, not the targets. We need to acknowledge that we haven't done enough. This nation, as rich it is, hasn't come to terms with its obligations to deal properly with our First Nations people and to work with them in a way where they control the outcomes. There's a huge gap between the words and actions; the gap between promises and results. We must do better.

I'm not going to, as I could, reflect upon the initial Close the Gap targets when they were set by the Rudd government, now so long ago, and talk about the record moneys that were made available to tackle disadvantage. But I do want to say that those investments have not been sustained. I'm not going to itemise them, but the 2014 budget saw $500 million taken out of programs for First Nations peoples. In that environment, it's very hard to understand how we could ever close any gap.

I want to applaud the initiatives that have been taken to address particular things over that period, but they have dropped off. Instead of looking at what more we can do with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, we have withdrawn. So the current structure of government is not inclusive. It doesn't take leadership from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It treats them as victims and objects. The compelling argument that I receive all the time is the desire of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to take control over their own lives and be dealt with equally, as partners, in the process.

I was heartened to see the comments made by the Leader of the Opposition in his contribution about what Labor is planning to do around the establishment of a voice, around regional representation and around giving Aboriginal people greater control over their lives and greater control over what happens in this place—in a sense, trying to just flip it so that the policy determinants are developed by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people themselves rather than by us here. If we can do that and understand with maturity that it's okay to let go a bit and give people that opportunity, then I think we can make a difference—and we will make a difference.

I've seen some examples. We've got the member for Forde here in the chamber. I'm not sure if he's aware of the work of the Institute of Urban Indigenous Health in Brisbane. Now, here is an organisation which reflects the capacity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across this country to do good for themselves and for the nation. Starting in 2011, I was fortunate enough to be the Minister for Indigenous Health and I was able to provide the Institute of Urban Indigenous Health with support to establish their organisation. It is four health services coming together under one umbrella—four health services, four clinics. I'm going to get the figures wrong, but it is now eight years on—my maths is not that flash, as you can tell—and they've got 21 clinics and are servicing almost 50 per cent of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population in South-East Queensland. They are making an immeasurable difference in health outcomes and they're doing it for themselves. They are a community based organisation, a community driven organisation, which is delivering magnificent services to the people of South-East Queensland. That's an example of where government has been prepared to allow them, provide them with support and give them the opportunity to tread in the direction they want to tread—and that's what we need to do.

That's not to say there won't be failings and failures around the place, but we've got to commit to a different relationship. The one we've got at the moment is simply not good enough. I've been in this parliament a long time and I've seen policies come and go, ministers come and go and prime ministers come and go—you name it! But one thing is certain: the desire of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be self-determining has not changed from the day I entered here to today. Yet, we have been loath, absolutely loath, to give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people the power to make decisions around their own lives in an appropriate way. That's why the issue of the voice and the Statement from the Heart is so important. That's why constitutional recognition is so important. We need to appreciate that, if we want to change the dynamic to really close the gap, we have to give people control. It's not hard. It might be hard to loosen the grip a bit. But, once you do and with the proper governance arrangements in place, you will see the difference, as I've seen the difference in many organisations across this country. We've got very reputable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders, highly professional people, who are able to lead the organisations and be engaged as equals across the table as partners. We just don't care to do it. We need to change that. We need to make sure that we do what we can to change the relationship.

We need to appreciate that, in how we deal with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, it's about health and it's about education—it's all of those things. But it's got to be delivered in a culturally safe way. We've got to recognise something which is very hard for us non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to recognise—and that is the depth of the institutionalised racism that still exists in this country. We've got to come to terms with that fact. We've got to let go and understand that we have been the inhibitors. We've got to change it and allow Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to have their voice and to properly listen to that voice—not just tolerate that voice but listen, hear and then act. If we can do that, we can make a difference. That's what I believe we, as this parliament and this country, need to do.

As parliamentarians, we have a particular responsibility. It's time for us to stand up in a mature and open way and deal with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as they should be dealt with—as the First Nations people of this country. It always was and always will be Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land, this country. Nothing can change that. What we've got to do is recognise it and recognise that, with it, comes an obligation on us to treat people fairly. We've yet to do it. We must do it. I'm hopeful that, if there's a change of government, as a result we can make it happen.