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Coalition's national commitment to indigenous Australians.

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A re-elected Coalition Government will make it a key priority of a third term to focus on improving the ability of individuals and families in Indigenous communities to take control of their own lives, the Minister for Reconciliation and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Philip Ruddock, announced today.

"The Coalition has set out, in its National Commitment to Indigenous Australians, a substantial agenda of work for an in-coming government. The underlying themes involve self-reliance and a ‘fair go’ for all," Mr Ruddock said.

"A re-elected Coalition Government will embark on a new era in Indigenous affairs, with a clear focus on self-reliance for families and individuals.

"There is growing momentum for reducing welfare dependency, creating employment and economic opportunities, and tackling the difficult issues of substance abuse and domestic violence.

"More people are speaking out about placing more importance on families and encouraging individuals.

"The Coalition will focus on the individual and will motivate and encourage initiative through promoting leadership, effective community management and shared responsibilities."

Mr Ruddock said the most stark indication of Indigenous disadvantage is the fact that the average life expectancy of Indigenous Australians is about 20 years less than for other Australians.

"Most Australians would agree that we must do all we can to remedy that situation, and we are committed to doing that," Mr Ruddock said.

"A re-elected Coalition Government is committed to renewing its efforts, in partnership with Indigenous people, other governments and indeed all Australians, to bridge the life expectancy gap."

In launching the Coalition’s Indigenous affairs election policy, Mr Ruddock acknowledged the special place that Indigenous Australians occupy as the original inhabitants of the country and also recognised that Indigenous Australians are the most disadvantaged group in Australian society.

"When the Coalition formed government in 1996, we inherited a situation where focus was lacking, and where there was insufficient accountability for government expenditure.

"We immediately took steps to establish a clear focus on those practical things that governments can

realistically do and to improve accountability and outcomes achieved.

"We believe that the Coalition Government has laid the foundations to increase the rate at which progress is achieved. We are beginning to show results from that effort.

"Practical reconciliation is working. But while progress has been made, we need to step up the rate at which this progress is achieved."

In a third term, the Coalition will maintain its commitment to boost spending on Indigenous affairs by more than $327 million over the next four years as part of its ongoing commitment to reconciliation, increasing self-reliance and reducing Indigenous disadvantage.

As a result of this spending, Indigenous-specific programmes received a record $2.39 billion in 2001-2002 ­ including more than $1.1 billion for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission.

Mr Ruddock announced a $2 million Networking the Nation telecommunications project for the remote Anangu Pitjantjatjara lands in South Australia and the Northern Territory.

Mr Ruddock stressed the important role that telecommunications and technology will play in Indigenous communities, particularly in remote areas.

"We need to harness the potential of this new technology to support our efforts in reducing Indigenous disadvantage.

"A re-elected Coalition Government will maintain a strong focus on delivering outcomes, a strong focus on accountability and a belief in partnerships with Indigenous people as the best way forward. We will continue to develop new and innovative approaches and to tackle the hard issues.

"We believe that real and lasting reconciliation will only be achieved when Indigenous Australians are able to enjoy the same opportunities and quality of life as any other Australian."

17 October 2001