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Thursday, 14 February 2019
Page: 10267

Closing the Gap


Senator DEAN SMITH (Western AustraliaChief Government Whip in the Senate) (14:08): For over a decade the parliament has consciously measured its success or otherwise of our national effort to end Indigenous disadvantage through the Closing the Gap process. With this in mind, my question is to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator Scullion. Can the minister update the Senate on the new initiatives the Prime Minister has announced today to support our efforts to close the gap in Indigenous disadvantage, particularly in terms of supporting better outcomes for Indigenous students?


Senator SCULLION (Northern TerritoryMinister for Indigenous Affairs and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:08): Thank you very much, Senator Smith, for that question. Can I say that the Prime Minister's speech today in delivering the Closing the gap:report2019 will mark a particular turning point in the way I hope all governments do business with Aboriginal and Torres Strait and Islander Australians. As the Prime Minister said, 'Together, we can achieve anything.'

I'm pleased that in nearly every area we've seen positive trends and progress, despite that only two of the seven national targets are on track. More children are getting the benefits of an early education. More mums are accessing antenatal care, not smoking during pregnancy and getting their children immunised. More Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are living longer. More Indigenous people are in work—especially, more women are employed. More Indigenous people have year 12 qualifications. But the rate of change has not been what is necessary, which is because of a number of reasons, but particularly because the basis of the original targets was flawed. They were not designed with Aboriginal and Torres Strait and Islander people, and reflected a way of thinking in those days that Canberra had the answers. So when a coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak bodies came to us asking for a different approach, I would like to commend the leadership of the Prime Minister for embracing that partnership model and for bringing that commitment to the Council of Australian Governments. Partnerships work—for example, the Empowered Communities initiative and Western Sydney Indigenous Business Hub. In fact, 100 per cent of our CDP providers are now Indigenous organisations. I'm very pleased that we are taking this partnership model and applying it right across government. As a down payment on these reforms, we've announced an additional $200 million for scholarships, Indigenous student academies and mentoring support, and we are waiving HELP debt to get more teachers into remote communities.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Smith, a supplementary question.



Senator DEAN SMITH (Western AustraliaChief Government Whip in the Senate) (14:10): How is the government working in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians to co-design solutions and improve outcomes?


Senator SCULLION (Northern TerritoryMinister for Indigenous Affairs and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:10): I thank the senator for the question. For the last two years, we have been working with communities across the country to refresh the Closing the Gap targets and frameworks. We know the 2008 Closing the Gap targets, as well intentioned as they were, were not developed in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. In fact, they were developed over a four-week period, largely by bureaucrats in Canberra. Responsible governments—Commonwealth, state and territory—were not accountable for their areas of responsibility and the targets were not based on evidence about what could be achieved in that timeframe.

We've adopted a different approach. Between November 2017 and August 2018 there were 29 roundtables across the country with 1,200 participants and 170 submissions received, and two peak body forums were held, on 5 April and 24 July. We convened a special gathering of Indigenous leaders who, for the very first time, reported to the Council of Australian Governments. We're committing to a formal partnership with a coalition of peak bodies.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Smith, a final supplementary question.



Senator DEAN SMITH (Western AustraliaChief Government Whip in the Senate) (14:12): What is the government doing to help more Indigenous entrepreneurs get into employment and small business?


Senator SCULLION (Northern TerritoryMinister for Indigenous Affairs and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:12): No matter where you live in our nation, we know the best approach is one of partnership. That's why we're working with remote communities to develop solutions that ensure we can all benefit from a strong economy. From next month, we will begin reforms on the Community Development Program, which has already supported remote jobseekers into almost 30,000 jobs. We've listened to Indigenous organisations which support the CDP—Northern Land Council, Arnhem Land Progress Association, New South Wales Land Council, Ceduna Aboriginal Corporation—the list goes on.

We are giving communities greater control over how the program is administered, shifting the focus to flexible, locally led support for jobseekers by increasing partnerships with Indigenous organisations to deliver these services. We've put forward reforms to create even more jobs and to cut Centrelink out so breaches would be reduced. But unfortunately, those opposite are not interested. They say it's just too close to an election. We're listening to the people in remote communities and doing what they want. That is the difference between words and action.