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Thursday, 14 February 2019
Page: 10331

Senator PATERSON (Victoria) (17:53): I am pleased to have the opportunity to make a brief contribution on the Closing the Gap report. I understand that Senator Collins will be making some remarks in a moment. I rise to do so in my capacity as chair of the finance and public administration committee of the Senate, which, through its oversight of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, has coverage of Indigenous policy issues on behalf of the Senate. For someone like me, who came to parliament without any expertise or experience in Indigenous policy issues, the insight that I have gained through this role has been eye opening and humbling. I mean 'humbling' in the true sense of the word and not the sometimes politically abused sense of the word. Sometimes when politicians receive a promotion or an accolade they say they are humbled, but in fact that's the opposite of what they mean. I mean 'humbling' as in recognising the limits of one's own knowledge. I think it's healthy we are sometimes frank about that and admit that.

The Closing the Gap report this year is in some ways like many previous Closing the Gap reports in that it shows there has been some progress but that there is much, much more work to do. In a moment I will reflect on why that's the case, but I think the Prime Minister's reflection on that today has been a very sensible one. Although I think there's great merit in an annual report to parliament on progress and in setting clear goals which we can measure our performance against as a nation, it is very clear that our failure to meet those goals on, really, a bipartisan basis requires a new approach and a new reflection. Some of the design flaws in the original Closing the Gap program need to be addressed. This is an area of policy where—although this is a trait we should bring to all things—we should be particularly humble. While all governments in this area have strived to make progress, and while all governments can point to some progress under their stewardship, no government is in a position to be particularly boastful about their performance in this area, despite their best efforts. Nonetheless, we shouldn't be relentlessly negative about these issues, because that's dispiriting and discouraging, and we should celebrate the successes where they occur, while being very sober about the challenges that we face ahead.

I want to reflect on some of the results in this year's Closing the gap report against those targets. As we have heard in this debate, it is pleasing to know that there is progress in at least two areas. Firstly, there is the area of early education, with the result of 95 per cent of all Indigenous four-year-olds being enrolled in early childhood education by 2025. There has been good progress made towards that goal, and on year 12 attainment—to half the gap with year 12 attainment by 2020.

But, of course, there are more targets not on track than there are on track. One which is not on track is life expectancy—closing the gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians within a generation, by 2031. I recognise that there are other things to be discussed in the chamber now, so I might yield my further time, but I look forward to further discussions on this topic. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.