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Tuesday, 19 February 2019
Page: 14010

Ms O'TOOLE (Herbert) (18:01): I believe it appropriate that I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land upon which we stand at this point in time, the Ngunawal people. I will also acknowledge the traditional owners of the land upon which I live: the Manbarra people and the Bwgcolman people of Palm Island, and the Bindal people of Townsville.

Last year I stood in this place and spoke on the 2018 Closing the gap report. I spoke about the targets that were set 11 years ago and how, sadly, the report showed that, for the first time since 2011, three out of the seven Closing the Gap targets were on track to be met. Unfortunately, I am standing here today disappointed and frustrated again. Whilst I am very pleased to see improvements in early childhood education and year 12 retention rates in the 2019 Closing the gap report, the reality is that these are only two targets out of seven that are on track. I will also give my congratulations, in my local community, to Clontarf and the newly established Stars programs that are operating in a number of the high schools in my electorate of Herbert. I do believe that that has helped significantly in ensuring the year 12 retention rates and that getting kids to school is working very, very well.

Under this LNP government, targets have gone backwards. As a result, they have not done much for our First Nations brothers and sisters, because their lives are not improving. The cuts, chaos and dysfunction of this LNP government are clearly evident in this report. I want to make it clear that it's not the targets that have failed; rather, it is this LNP government that has failed our First Nations people. The successive failures of the Abbott-Turnbull Morrison government's inability to match well-intentioned rhetoric with action are gross miscarriages of justice and leadership.

It needs to be said that the time for rhetoric and longwinded niceties is well and truly over. It is now time for action, collaboration and delivery. The time for dictating to our First Nations people is over. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have a very high incarceration rate and very poor health outcomes. Poverty and inequality are extraordinarily high. We must engage and collaborate with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters, because this is their land—it always was and it always will be.

Labor believe that we need a new focus to achieve the targets set out in the Closing the Gap framework, and we welcome the opportunity to collaborate with our First Nations people, because we know that a genuine partnership with First Nations people is essential to bring about change. This LNP government has failed to genuinely engage with First Nations people. Whether it's Closing the Gap, the Community Development Program, the Indigenous Advancement Strategy or constitutional recognition, this government has consistently pursued flawed policy and failed to genuinely engage with First Nations people in the design and implementation process.

If those opposite were serious and truly committed to ensuring First Nations people have a say in the matters that affect them then they would immediately reverse their opposition to a constitutionally enshrined voice for First Nations people. Under a Shorten-led government, a voice for the First Nations people will be enshrined in our Constitution and it will be one of our first priorities. This is a genuine commitment and we will work in partnership with our First Nations peoples.

My electorate of Herbert includes the largest discrete Aboriginal community, Palm Island, with a population of anywhere between 3,500 and 5,000 people. Fifty-one per cent of the population on Palm Island are under 25 and it's approximately eight per cent of the electorate. Palm Island has a horrendous penal history, but the traditional owners, the Manbarra people and the Bwgcolman people, are strong and resilient people. But they have some unique challenges that the LNP government are completely ignoring.

Palm Island's unemployment rate is almost 29 per cent and, when you consider that 51 per cent of the population are under 25, that is extraordinarily high. Instead of working with the community to address this, the LNP government have cut the national partnership on remote Indigenous housing, a 10-year $5.4 billion program which expired in June 2018. For Palm Island, this has meant further job losses. Because of the LNP cuts to vocational education and training and the national partnership on remote Indigenous housing, seven apprentices on Palm have lost their jobs. These cuts are doing nothing to assist in closing the gap. In fact, it is this sort of poor decision-making and lack of vision by this LNP government that is failing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples not only in my electorate of Herbert but across this nation.

I have a strong and longstanding relationship with the people of Palm Island that stems from well before my election to this place. As I said earlier, the residents of Palm Island, the Bwgcolman and Manbarra peoples, are resilient and strong, but they need support to achieve economic sustainability. They are passionate about their community, their history and their vision for a thriving, prosperous and economically sustainable island. Last year, it was their 100-year anniversary and they celebrated with a focus on the past, the present and the future. The future was formed around the young people and their vision for their community.

I have been enormously proud to support Palm Island Aboriginal Shire Council in securing funding for local projects such as: the better connected project, which improved connectivity between the Palm Island council and community members, staff and other agencies; and the small business incubator project, which enabled residents to have a space for entrepreneurial small-business endeavours which will stimulate small-business growth and create much-needed employment opportunities.

I am proud to be part of a Labor team that will invest an extra $750,000 in our first three years to the Bwgcolman Community School on Palm Island. This investment will ensure every child will get the quality education that they deserve. I will continue to work with the residents and the Palm Island Shire Council to ensure that they receive their fair share. Together, we will continue to strive for more opportunities for the residents to ensure that we do close the gap.

Labor have worked with our First Nations peoples. We have co-designed and announced policies that will assist in closing the gap. A Labor government will provide $10 million to programs that will assist in the healing of the stolen generation and their descendants nationwide and be administered by the Healing Foundation. These programs will support intergenerational healing, family reunion and return to country. Labor will work with First Nations peoples and set justice targets, reduce incarceration rates and improve community safety. In our first 100 days, a Shorten Labor government will convene a national summit for First Nations children. It is very clear that Labor are serious about working with our First Nations people in order to make positive and meaningful changes to their lives and the lives of their children.

Governments cannot any longer turn a blind eye to the reality of failed targets. In order to meet our targets, as I have said, we must engage in genuine and collaborative partnership. We must engage in truth-telling. We must admit our weaknesses and failures of the past and take serious and immediate actions that will improve the lives of First Nations people and give them the opportunity to tell their stories. Labor believes that the notion of 'business as usual' cannot continue and is no longer an option. First Nations people must have a permanent and ongoing say in the issues that affect their lives if we are to ever close the gap. I am proud to work in this place with the Hon. Linda Burnie, Senator Pat Dodson and Senator Malarndirri McCarthy in a Labor team that is trying very hard to close the gap for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters into the future.