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Thursday, 14 February 2019
Page: 10325


Senator STORER (South Australia) (17:28): I would like to begin by acknowledging the Ngunawal people, as the traditional owners of the land upon which we stand, and the Kaurna people, as the traditional owners of the land on which my office in Adelaide sits, and pay respect to their elders past and present. I also acknowledge all First Nations people in this and the other place.

Eleven statements, and yet on some of the most important indicators we are not even close to meeting the targets adopted more than a decade ago. On the current trajectory, for example, we cannot expect Indigenous Australians to live as long as the rest of the community, nor that child mortality rates will fall to the level the rest of us can expect. Just two of the seven goals are now on track, one less than last year. How are we going backwards despite pledges from all sides of politics to make sure that the people who have inhabited this continent for at least 60,000 years enjoy the same quality of life as the rest of us? In 21st-century Australia, after more than a quarter of a century of unbroken economic growth and increased prosperity, this is simply a disgrace. As both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition acknowledged, it is simply not good enough. Words are one thing, as are intentions, but it is actions that count. We have made the pledges but failed to produce the results. I agree with the Prime Minister that this is unforgiveable and appreciate his honesty in admitting that he does not know when Indigenous children will have the same opportunity as any other child in this community, but it is an indictment of us all.

I'm pleased the report acknowledges that a top-down approach was set up to fail and that a strength based, community led approach will form a critical foundation for future work. I'm also pleased that the government has endorsed the expansion of small, family and medium-sized Indigenous businesses to tackle the Indigenous employment gap. More must be done on this score. As I noted in my first speech, the Commonwealth's Indigenous procurement policy should be adopted by all levels of government and by more companies to drive demand for Indigenous goods and services and grow the Indigenous business sector.

I welcome the Prime Minister's commitment to waive the HECS debts of teachers who spend more than four years working in remote Australia. This is a practical step which may encourage more teachers to spend more time with their Indigenous pupils. This initiative is essential but not sufficient, given that most Indigenous students live outside remote Australia, in the cities and towns of our nation. Education, knowledge and skills are the keys to a better life. They may not be the sole determinants, but, without them, it is that much harder.

A good start would be to commit to the suggestion of the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples that we start to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents, carers, elders and leaders at the local level to create an education system which is culturally safe, inclusive and relevant. If some of the nation's most eminent Indigenous leaders think they are not being listened to, what hope have we got? As I said in my first speech last year, it is shameful that, by percentage, more of our First Nations people are in jail than any other indigenous group in the world. I agree with the opposition leader that it remains true that men and women are being arrested and jailed not because of the gravity of their offence but because of the colour of their skin. As Martin Luther King Jr put it all of those years ago: he dreamed of a nation where his children would not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. I also applaud the opposition leader for his candid challenge. As he put it, 'If this parliament cannot acknowledge that racism exists in 2019, we are just wasting the time of the First Australians today.'

I pledge to redouble my efforts to do all I can to ensure that the aspirations of the First Australians for a referendum are realised. As I said in my first speech, the historic hand of reconciliation extended to our parliament through the Uluru Statement from the Heart remains unmet. I support calls for a First Nations voice in parliament enshrined in our Constitution and for a makarrata commission to supervise a process of truth telling and agreement making. We further need to officially acknowledge the Frontier Wars, as well as incorporate them as a central element of our school curricular, and to review the Frontier Wars being formally acknowledged at the Australian War Memorial. We must recognise that the First Nations people fought gallantly to defend their lands in the face of European invasion. I also believe that true reconciliation requires becoming a republic and a review on changing our flag.

Importantly, this year's Closing the Gap report is yet another reminder that we are failing our First Nations people and that we must redouble our efforts to address the root causes of persistent inequality. It is time to take a stand and succeed where previously we have failed.