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Thursday, 5 March 2015
Page: 1334

Indigenous Affairs

Senator PERIS (Northern Territory) (14:51): My question is to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator Scullion. I refer to the minister's comments earlier this week when he said:

Many of my communities live on the floor. It is like a cave. I think one of the characteristics of civilisation must be that you don't have to eat at the same level as your animals. It must be something like that.

Does the minister stand by these words, and does he understand why his words have offended so many people?

Senator SCULLION (Northern TerritoryMinister for Indigenous Affairs and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:52): Yes, and it is great opportunity to clarify a couple of the inferences that have been made in the question. I was speaking in regard to a question about the sorts of businesses that could develop in Indigenous communities, and I was reflecting on manufacturing. There was a question: what sort of manufacturing in communities? I said, 'Well, we really need furniture. Why is it the fact that my mob have absolutely no furniture in the state and territory provided public housing—no furniture?' There is not an IKEA down the road. You cannot just go down to Bunnings and pick up a couple of tools. The only place you have is a small bench around the kitchen, so, when you come home at night, you put the telephone on the floor. You go and cook something: 'How're you going, Johnny? Yep, no worries, mate. You just have a feed down there.' I was appalled that that continues to be the case. That was the context. I was proudly representing the awful circumstances of our first people.

Senator PERIS (Northern Territory) (14:53): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister confirm that his parliamentary colleague Mr Wyatt and the head of the Prime Minister's Indigenous Advisory Council, Mr Mundine, among others, have criticised the minister's insulting words? Will the minister now apologise?

Senator SCULLION (Northern TerritoryMinister for Indigenous Affairs and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:53): I do understand that, when you provide a journalist with a bag of words, they take out one word, out of context. They then went to Mr Wyatt and to Mr Mundine and said, 'He's referred to people in a cave; what do you think about that?' and they said, 'Well, that does seem to be unfortunate.' In that context, that sort of mischief is always going to make print, I suppose, and I think that is a bit sad. There are so many real stories to write about this tragedy, so we do not need to make any up. I have to say that the context is very clear about the responses that I made, and I stand by them.

Senator PERIS (Northern Territory) (14:54): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I refer to the Katherine women's legal service, which provides front-line services to victims of family violence, including Indigenous women, and which has just been notified that its funding has been cut in half. Does the minister also stand by his claim that his government's decision to cut half a billion dollars from the Indigenous budget will not have an impact on front-line services?

Government senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on my right! Senator Peris, that did not directly relate to the primary question, but I will allow the minister to answer if he wishes to.

Senator SCULLION (Northern TerritoryMinister for Indigenous Affairs and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:54): Just in the interests of providing information to Senator Peris: all of the family violence centres have been funded to the exact same extent as they were. In fact, there has been an increase. However, there are some who applied separately for different funds, and there will be a negotiation about how much those funds were. I understand that in this case there might have been substantially less than they applied for in separate funding beyond what they were originally funded for. But I am more than happy to supply some more details to you or the Senate if that is required.