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Thursday, 14 February 2019
Page: 10319

Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (16:53): I too rise to make a contribution to this debate on the 11th Closing the gap report. I would first like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Ngunawal-Ngambri people, and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging. I also acknowledge that this land was never ceded, that sovereignty was never ceded and that we have a lot of unfinished business in this country.

This morning I was in the chamber to listen to the Prime Minister deliver the latest report on closing the gap, and I heard the distressing news that we had, in fact, gone backwards from last year—that this year we were only on track to meet two of our targets: early education enrolment and year 12 attainment. I'll come back to early childhood enrolment shortly. That means we're not meeting our targets on life expectancy. They're not on track. Child mortality has in fact gone backwards slightly. Last year we met that target. We're not meeting our target on school attendance. We're not meeting our targets on reading, writing and numeracy achievement or on employment outcomes.

I am going to be controversial here. I found a lot of the Prime Minister's speech this morning paternalistic and patronising. I felt very strongly lectured to about his new-found commitment to co-design and his understanding of co-design and of community control of Aboriginal decision-making and Aboriginal delivery of programs. Let's be honest here. We started a refreshed approach on the Closing the Gap targets. I clearly remember standing in this place—in fact, in the Mural Hall—and having Aboriginal people coming up to me and complaining about being excluded from the refreshed process. Let's face it: this government has been dragged kicking and screaming to the table for co-design. That is why the refreshed process has been delayed. I'll name it here. It has taken a long time for this government, despite the words that we hear, to actually commit to co-design. There had to be a great deal of lobbying to ensure that that happened. It was repeated and repeated.

If the government is so committed to co-design, why are we still seeing legislation before this parliament on the Community Development Program that does not adequately acknowledge the flaws of the program? The government brought that legislation to this place without presenting the review of the CDP. That review was released last week. The government's own report shows the flaws in that program and finally admits there is a cohort of people that have actually dropped out of the system—they are not in employment and they are not involved in the income support system. The program overwhelmingly penalises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The stats clearly show that Aboriginal people are being overwhelmingly targeted by that program. The cashless welfare card is another program that is not—as much as the government likes to say it is—a co-designed program, and there are many in the community that reject that card. There are many other programs where, if the government is committed to co-design—and I hear that it is now committed—it will take a new approach.

I was extremely disappointed that I didn't hear this morning a commitment by the government to the Uluru Statement from the Heart that is so overwhelmingly supported by First Nations peoples and that is gaining more and more support in the broader community. I argue very strongly that it was a more participatory process than has been undertaken for any of the programs that are being delivered in this country for First Nations peoples—and it was very clearly and strongly delivered. I didn't hear a commitment to that. I didn't hear a commitment to an Indigenous voice to parliament. I'll commit here that the Greens will do everything that we can to ensure that there is a voice of First Nations peoples to this parliament. I heard very strongly what Senator Wong just said, and we will also commit to making sure that Labor keep their word, because what I clearly heard when I was on the latest constitutional recognition committee was that people want a voice to the parliament. There is still discussion about what that should look like, but that is not irresolvable. There are lots of discussions going on—in fact, probably as we speak—about what the voice should look like and how to progress it.

I didn't hear a lot of discussion about the intergenerational trauma that we still need to address. I welcome a commitment to education and improving education, but you can't keep education separate from all the other things: a child goes to school in a context. If a child lives in an overcrowded house, or a house that's falling down around their ears, or if they can't get to sleep, or if they've got other vulnerabilities then just getting them to school is, in fact, not going to deliver an outcome. And they find it hard to get to school. If a child has poor health it cannot learn properly. So you can't take education out without fixing all these other things, and intergenerational trauma is one of those things that needs to be addressed. I didn't hear a commitment to that this morning. These are the things that we look for when we look to a commitment by government on those issues.

The government didn't commit to putting back in over half a billion dollars worth of funding that was taken out in 2014. That had a devastating impact on the ability of Aboriginal communities to deliver programs on the ground. I've heard very little about the Indigenous Advancement Strategy that is so detested in Aboriginal communities. These are the sorts of programs that are top-down, not co-designed, and arbitrary in their funding.

We have a long way to go in this country, but we can start a better relationship by getting a unanimous commitment to the Uluru Statement from the Heart, a unanimous commitment to implementing the voice and a unanimous commitment to truth telling—to establishing a process to enable the sort of regional truth telling that was articulated in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Addressing issues around sovereignty and treaties is also key for this country to truly move forward. There are comments made around what I and many others call 'invasion day'—others who accept the definition of invasion day—about whether we need to change this nation, to change Australia. I genuinely believe that we need to change this nation in the way that we treat our First Nations peoples if we are going to genuinely and finally close the gap.