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Thursday, 14 February 2019
Page: 10313


Senator SCULLION (Northern TerritoryMinister for Indigenous Affairs and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (16:31): On behalf of the Prime Minister, I table the annual report on Closing the Gap and accompanying ministerial statement. I move:

That the Senate take note of the documents.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Marshall ): I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate 10 minutes to each of the speakers in today's debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.

Senator SCULLION: I would like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Ngunawal and Ngambri peoples, and I would like to pay my respect to their elders past, present and future. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many local Aboriginal elders who I have got to know during this role—Tyrone and Wally Bell, Matilda House, Paul House, Tina Brown—who take on the role of welcoming us to their country. I have learnt so much from you and I thank you for your generosity in welcoming us to your land. I want to acknowledge all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have welcomed me onto their country and into their communities and families. I have been privileged to serve in the past five years as Minister for Indigenous Affairs. I would like to acknowledge Senators Dodson and McCarthy. I acknowledge your leadership, both as senators and as Aboriginal people. We may not agree on a range of matters, but I certainly value the contribution you make and I do listen closely.

I am pleased that the annual Closing the Gap report brings Indigenous affairs to the forefront of our parliament. It is an opportunity to highlight the issues Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have told me matter to them most—getting a job, getting kids to school and keeping communities safe. Unfortunately, many in our nation will limit their discussion to a snapshot of progress, or lack thereof, against the targets—an assessment of failure in Indigenous Australia. But, as Roy Ah-See, Chair of the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, said, 'We need to move from a deficit discussion to one that acknowledges where more work is needed but celebrates the outstanding contribution Indigenous people make and the success of Aboriginal Torres Strait Islanders in every community.'

I for one would like to stand here and declare that all of the targets are on track, and to stand before the chamber and declare there is no longer a gap between outcomes for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. However, these are long-term intergenerational issues and, as such, change will take time. The Prime Minister's statement this morning outlined that only two of the seven targets are on track—that we are on track in early childhood enrolment and high-school completion. If you take a closer look at the targets you can see these are areas where the Commonwealth had a direct leaver to change. We made getting children enrolled in early-childhood education a key focus across the Indigenous enhancement strategy. We provide direct funding to organisations that provide scholarships, mentoring and support for Indigenous students to get to school and stay in school, like the Australian Indigenous Australian Foundation, the Clontarf Foundation, the Stars Foundation, Role Models and Leaders Australia, the Bronco Academy—who I met with today—and AFL House.

It was so exciting to work with the Prime Minister and the member for Warringah to secure a historic $200 million Indigenous youth education package that will secure the future of the next generation of Indigenous Australians. In addition, we've announced today that we will waive the HELP debt for teachers who work—and, importantly, stay working—in very remote Indigenous communities for four years. This is important because, as we know, building relationships and working together takes time. It's no good having a teacher fly in for six months and then leave. It's absolutely essential to build trust and relationships in community to deliver change.

We've extended the Indigenous Procurement Policy to boost the Indigenous business sector even further. Through the Indigenous Procurement Policy we've supercharged growth in the Indigenous business sector. Since its establishment in 2015, Indigenous businesses have delivered 11,933 contracts worth over $1.83 billion—not a bad hop and a leap from $6.2 million in 2013. It's proof of what happens when we get the targets right. From 1 July 2019, part 2 of the Indigenous procurement process will introduce a target of three per cent of the value of the Commonwealth contracts to be awarded to Indigenous businesses within a decade. This is adding to the existing IPP target of three per cent of the number of Commonwealth contracts going to Indigenous businesses.

What I am pleased about and what I want to share with the chamber is that we are seeing change. We are seeing positive signs of success on the ground in many areas. 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, and, especially, more women are employed. More Indigenous people have year 12 qualifications.

To lose hope based solely on the achievement of targets fails to recognise all of the achievements of the hardworking leaders in communities across Australia. Djambawa Marawili and the Baniyala traditional owners—I think Djambawa is in the chamber today; I recognise you, wala—have established a corporation to take on, for the first time ever, the responsibilities of a delegation of land council functions. Andrea Mason, who is also in the gallery today, has worked tirelessly to improve health and wellbeing and to tackle the tough issues like domestic violence in the NPY lands.

I ask that you remember to listen to the voice and wisdom of elders like these. It is in working together in genuine partnership that success is possible. We as members of parliament, as policymakers here in Canberra, must genuinely listen to communities about what works and partner with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. When we get it right, when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander are empowered to take charge of their own destinies, we see enormous success. So listen to the 1,473 Indigenous businesses that have grown and seized opportunity under the IPP. Listen to the 60 per cent of Indigenous organisations tackling some of the most difficult social issues under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy. Listen to the empowered community leaders who are leading the way on working together with government to drive change on local community priorities. Listen to the traditional owner groups who have worked hard to have 220,000-odd hectares of Aboriginal land handed back in the Northern Territory since 2013.

When we work together success is possible. We hear stories of local achievements. Fishermen in Nardilmuk in the Northern Territory are working together to turn their tradition and hobby into a thriving business across the territory. The Nantawarrina rangers are removing and selling 9,000 feral goats from their country in South Australia. Young shearers are going to the Merriman Shearing School in Brewarrina in New South Wales. It's clear from these examples that when we support the economic prosperity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people there is a whole-of-community benefit.

From next month we will begin reforms on the Community Development Program, which has already supported remote jobseekers into almost 30,000 jobs. I have listened to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations which support the CDP. Just to name a few of them: the Northern Land Council; Arnhem Land Progress Association; Winun Ngari from the Kimberley; Rainbow Gateway from Queensland; New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, which has 23,000 members; Koonibba Aboriginal Corporation; and Ceduna Aboriginal Corporation—the list goes on and on. We are giving the communities greater control over CDP and shifting the focus to flexible, locally led support for jobseekers.

We are listening to people in remote communities and doing what they want, not what special interest units want. This is the difference between words and actions. We have seen huge advances in Indigenous control over land, which provides a strong foundation for building economic activity and intergenerational wealth. Native title has now been determined to exist over around 37 per cent of Australia's land mass. There are nine Northern Territory communities now with township leases, and I am really excited to see even more progress on township leasing, with communities like Gunyangara now holding township leases over their own community with their own leases. I listened to my good friend Galarrwuy Yunupingu some five years ago. We were sitting under the tamarind tree out there at Ski Beach. I heard his call to control his land. This is the difference between words and action.

In school attendances, as a parent I have said time and time again that a good education provides the best start in life. Getting kids to school in remote communities is an intrinsic but not an intractable problem. I am proud of what we have been able to do on remote school attendance. When we came to government I couldn't stand here and tell you the extent of the problem. The data simply didn't exist. We didn't measure students by indigeneity. I was told that school attendance is primarily a function of state governments, but what I have seen and heard was that getting kids to school out in communities was a huge challenge. It was something that needed to be done. The parents wanted their children to get an education. That's why we have made this a national priority. We have persisted with state governments. We have built a workforce, with unrelenting shifting social norms. This change is going to take time, but I believe it is one of critical importance. It is a generation of kids that go to school, then send their own children the school. We have got to continue to shift the dial on this. I know my colleague the member for Warringah has been very impressed by the passion and persistence of these workers as he visits the remote schools across Australia as a special envoy on Indigenous Affairs.

These are the sorts of community led solutions I have been lucky to watch grow over my time as minister. But I have also seen Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities go through heartbreakingly tough challenges, challenges driven by entrenched problems, problems for which there is no silver bullet. I am proud to have been able to support communities in tackling these issues, like the National Indigenous Critical Response Service, supporting families and communities after tragedies like suicide; like the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services, which provide support through the custody notification service for Indigenous people taken into police custody; like the services providing therapeutic, trauma informed care to survivors of family violence to help keep them and their families safe; like the dedicated through-care workers, who work with prisoners to turn their lives around and stop offending.

I am deeply passionate about these issues and the work we have done to address them. I entrust the next generation of leaders with the task of keeping this work to tackle these difficult issues going. We need more Indigenous leaders to continue to challenge the behaviours and norms in their own communities which lead to poor outcomes. When we have brave leaders like Noel Pearson, Jacinta Price and June Oscar, we need to back them in. We need to see more existing and emerging leaders stand up and have a say, to join the coalition of peaks in working with government on the next decade of reform through Closing the Gap Refresh; to get the targets right; to put words into action.

My five years as Minister for Indigenous Affairs have been challenging. They have been more rewarding than I could have hoped. Do I wish we had seen faster progress? Of course I do, but meeting, working and speaking with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders from all walks of life has reminded me time and time again of the tremendous wisdom and resilience of Aboriginal communities, families and individuals. I want to head bush and leave the mob with a clear message: the future is in your hands; keep fighting for it. To paraphrase the Prime Minister's striking and determined words this morning, there is nothing we can't do when we work together. I can't wait to see the bright potential of Australia's next chapter, the chapter of our First Australians, unfold.