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Thursday, 14 February 2019
Page: 10323

Senator GRIFF (South Australia) (17:15): I would like to first acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, and I would also like to pay my respects to elders past and present. Once again, the latest Closing the gap report is no cause for optimism. Only two of the seven targets are on track nationally and in my home state of South Australia, and they are the target to enrol 95 per cent of Indigenous four-year-olds in early childhood education and the target to halve the gap in year 12 attainment. These are both important to the long-term outcomes of Indigenous children, because education is one of the pillars on which to build a solid future, but so is good health. Unfortunately, Indigenous life expectancy remains lower than that of non-Indigenous people, and child mortality rates, while lower than they were a decade ago, are still too high at 164 Indigenous babies and children for each 100,000 people—representing 96 more Indigenous children than non-Indigenous children and babies.

On the jobs front, the employment rate has not improved in the past decade at all. Just over half of the Indigenous Australians of working age living in major cities were employed, while in remote areas the figure dropped to a staggeringly low 31 per cent. The aim of this program is to progress key areas vital for meaningful lives for Indigenous people. With these results, is it any wonder Indigenous communities and organisations feel let down?

I welcome the Prime Minister's speech earlier today, in which he recognised that, despite our lofty ambitions, not enough real progress has been made in the last decade. As often as not, the annual update on Closing the Gap has not been a progress report, as we have seen frustratingly slow or no progress. It has been more of a status quo report. It is really difficult to comprehend how the collective funding and effort by federal and state governments over so many years has achieved very little progress. This tells us how entrenched some of these issues are, but it also tells us that we need to go back to the drawing board. As the old adage says: if you keep doing what you've always done, you're always going to get what you've always got. The top-down tick-a-box approach has failed. So I applaud the moves by COAG to refresh the Closing the Gap agenda and include more accountability and to work more closely with Indigenous people.

A true solution cannot be imposed on the people it is designed to help. It must be done in genuine partnership with Indigenous communities and with a willingness to listen and be responsive. Indigenous people understand better than bureaucrats what will work in their community to unlock the potential of their people now, and particularly for future generations. In saying that, I would also hope that we get more ambitious about what we're trying to achieve. I don't believe that we should have targets to halve the gap, as we do for four of the target outcomes. This always struck me as very much being a low bar. We should commit to genuinely closing the gap in all areas.

As a nation, our ambition and expectation should be that there be no difference in life expectancy, educational outcomes, health and employment of Indigenous people. If we don't strive and aim for absolute equality, if we don't have that as a benchmark, we will never close the gap.