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Monday, 30 August 2004
Page: 26646

Senator SCULLION (2:57 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Senator Vanstone. Will the minister inform the Senate of the government's achievements in and commitment to providing better outcomes and futures for Indigenous Australians? Is the minister aware of any alternative policies?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation) —I thank Senator Scullion, who comes from the Northern Territory, for the question because he obviously has such a strong interest in Indigenous affairs. Of great pride to everybody on this side of the chamber are the government's achievements in relation to caring for and providing better outcomes for first Australians. Since 1996 we have increased spending on Indigenous programs by 39 per cent in real terms. We are now spending 39 per cent more in real terms than the Labor government did in their last year in office. We do not do this because there are votes in it—there are not many marginal seats that have a large number of Indigenous voters in them—we do it because they are first Australians and they deserve value for money.

Let me turn to some of our specific achievements. Death rates from respiratory illness were over seven times the rate for non-Indigenous Australians from 1992 to 1994. They are now four times the rate. They have come down from seven to four. They still need to come down further, but that is in itself an achievement. Death rates from infectious and parasitic diseases were over nine times the rate for non-Indigenous Australians from 1992 to 1994. They are now down to five times the rate. These are important achievements. Five times the rate is still woefully high and it is still unsatisfactory, but it is a real achievement to bring the death rate down from nine times that of non-Indigenous Australians to only five times. In the Torres Strait, for example, there has been a 41 per cent reduction in diabetes related hospital admissions.

There is more we could say on health, but let us turn to education and employment—where you give people real opportunities. The year 12 retention rate for Indigenous Australians increased from 29 per cent in 1996 to 39 per cent in 2001. If education gives you a chance, the year 12 retention rate going from 29 per cent to 39 per cent is surely an achievement. The number of vocational education and training students has almost doubled since 1996. Unemployment rates are down. Employment participation rates are up. In 1996 there were fewer than 4,000 new apprentices, and there are now almost 8,000. Overcrowding rates are reducing. More communities have access to sewerage, electricity and water. I give credit to the state governments for having done that. Deaths in custody have reduced since 1996 and are now less than the non-Indigenous rate. But we want better outcomes, and that is why we chose to abolish ATSIC and to radically reform service delivery. We have already made achievements but we want to go further.

As to alternative policies, I am a bit uncertain. Senator Scullion, there is plenty more that I would like to say on this issue. I was watching 60 Minutes last night and I saw Mr Latham list as an achievement getting rid of ATSIC. Fancy a woman reporter saying, `What are your achievements?' Affronted, he said, `I've been achieving things in the parliament—the abolition of ATSIC.' Well, hello! It is still there because you refused to pass a bill to get rid of it. He said it again on radio this morning. `I got it done,' he says—it is always about the boy—`so too the abolition of ATSIC. So there are runs on the board. There are achievements from opposition.' I do not think so! But Mr Latham told the Australian people he would get rid of ATSIC. Last night he told them he had done it! (Time expired)

Senator SCULLION —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Would the minister further inform the Senate of whether any alternative policies were taken into consideration when the government was formulating this policy?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation) —The short answer to that is that, if we knew what the opposition policy was, we might be able to take it into account. I thought the policy was that we would get rid of ATSIC. And the boy says: `I got it done, so too the abolition of ATSIC. It is an achievement. It is a run on the board. There are achievements from opposition.' I would like to take make it clear that we will bring the bill on if the opposition will agree to pass it before parliament is prorogued—then Mr Latham might be able to say retrospectively that he was telling the truth.

Senator Hill —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.