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Thursday, 13 February 2014
Page: 457


Ms SCOTT (Lindsay) (10:28): I rise to echo the sentiments of the Prime Minister yesterday when he presented the Closing the Gap address to the parliament. I would particularly like to acknowledge the commitment to Indigenous affairs and emphasise the importance the federal coalition has placed on this issue. I am also pleased to note that the Prime Minister has delivered on his election commitment to move the responsibility of Indigenous programs to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Together, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Indigenous Affairs are making significant inroads in delivering for Aboriginal people right across Australia. On 10 August 2013 the then Leader of the Opposition, now the Prime Minister, said:

What that requires is a new engagement between black and white people so that we can walk forward arm in arm as brothers and sisters.

This reminds me of a welcome to country of one of my local Darug men, Uncle Gary. He said: 'Australia is like a piano: you have white keys, you have black keys, but you only get truly beautiful music when you use all the keys together.' I believe the Prime Minister and Uncle Gary make excellent points as to what we as a community can achieve if we all work together.

I was pleased to see Warren Mundine, chair of the Prime Minister's Indigenous Advisory Council, attend the prime ministerial address. I am so proud to be part of the Abbott government, which seeks a truly bipartisan approach to this issue and is not just a government dictating to Aboriginal people but asking Aboriginal people to help us lead the way. By working together, we hope to find a pathway to truly solve our collective national challenges.

Dreamtime theology often speaks in terms of yesterday, today and tomorrow. By acknowledging our past and working in our present, we can unite for a better tomorrow. I am confident the Prime Minister's Indigenous Advisory Council will ensure that the Indigenous programs will achieve real, positive change in the lives of Aboriginal people everywhere and move Australia one step closer to its Closing the Gap targets. It is because of all of these elements that the Closing the Gap initiative is so vitally important.

I would like to recognise the efforts of the previous parliament in beginning the step to close the gap. The target to halve the gap in child mortality within a decade is on track to be met. As a nation, we are close to meeting the target of five per cent of remote children enrolled in preschool and we should soon know what percentage are actually attending as well as just enrolled. The target to halve the gap in year 12 attainment by 2020 is also on track to be met. These really are wonderful achievements, but there is still so much more work to be done.

I am concerned by other details of the 2014 Closing the Gap report. Particularly, there has been little improvement towards halving the gap in reading, writing and numeracy. As an extension of this, Indigenous employment has unfortunately slipped backwards. Furthermore, there has been almost no progress in the improvement of lowering the life expectancy gap that exists for the Aboriginal community. I say 'as an extension' because, as members of this parliament, we would all be too aware that it is hard for anyone to find work, particularly without a basic education. As the Prime Minister stated yesterday, it is also hard to live well without a job.

It does not take much to realise that each of the targets we have not improved on are interconnected and can be advanced over the long term by looking at ways to engage Indigenous children in education. That is why I was pleased that the Prime Minister moved to add a seventh target to end the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous school attendance within five years. I believe all Australian children, disadvantaged Indigenous children in particular, deserve access to a robust curriculum providing the best possible education to enable young Australian people to have the best start to their best possible life and to forge their best possible future. But, by doing so, they will also enrich our nation in return.

Finally, I would like to add that slogans like 'Close the Gap' are meaningless if they do not actually deliver real outcomes in closing the gap. They must address the key challenges faced by these communities in our cities, in our towns and in our rural and remote regions. As the Prime Minister stated, it is important to turn good intentions into better outcomes. The fact that this parliament is committed to delivering real solutions and engaging Indigenous leaders and communities in meaningful discussion fills me with confidence that this government, and this parliament, can deliver policy and initiatives that will make significant inroads in achieving the final three and new targets to in fact close the gap.