Closing the Gap - 12/02/2020

12 February 2020



Today is an incredibly important day for this parliament and this nation, when we monitor the progress against the Closing the Gap targets that were set in 2008 following the national apology by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Sadly, today we know that five of those seven targets are far from on track. One of those targets was to halve the gap in child mortality by 2018. Tragically, the rate of child mortality for Indigenous children remains twice that of other Australian children. We wanted to halve the gap in reading, writing and numeracy by 2018. This is well behind, with one in four Indigenous children not meeting minimum standards for reading, and one in five for numeracy. These children are being robbed of a lifetime of opportunity. We wanted to close the gap in school attendance by 2018 and halve the gap in employment, and to close the gap in life expectancy by 2031. On this, Indigenous Australians remain eight years behind non-Indigenous Australians. That is worse in remote and regional areas. Very concerningly, cancer mortality rates for Indigenous Australians are actually worsening in absolute terms, not only when compared with non-Indigenous Australians.

We as a nation cannot accept this. This is the same as last year and it is simply not good enough. If we want to see real change and progress in closing the gap we must properly understand that the dispossession and separation of families did not stay in the past. The generational trauma continues on. We have to recognise this. The consequences of past wrongs have transcended generations and can still be felt today. We need to confront our history. We need truth-telling. It is also critical that we understand that First Nations people understand best the challenges and solutions to the issues affecting them. First Nations people need to be central to the decisions that affect them, and it is for these reasons that Labor supports the Uluru statement in full. As outlined in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, delivered in 2017, three years ago now, those gathered at the National Constitutional Convention, coming from all around this country, said:

… we are the most incarcerated people on the planet … Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates … our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers.

…   …   …

… to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country … have power over our destiny … We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.

Makarrata … the coming together after a struggle.

Labor wants to see this implemented. Here we are, three years on, still waiting to see a voice to the parliament enshrined so that we can meaningfully listen. We must stop repeating the mistakes of the past. We must genuinely listen to First Nations Australians. We welcome the partnership between the Coalition of Peaks and the government, and Labor hopes to support new and ambitious targets to close the gap, including in the important areas of justice, child removal and out-of-home care. There are things that just must simply be addressed. As the member for Barton has again drawn attention to in this parliament, there are communities that don't have clean water for kidney dialysis, let alone drinking. We as a nation cannot accept this. A genuine commitment means services and programs need to be adequately resourced and properly funded. We question that commitment as genuine when this government has cut half a billion dollars from Indigenous Affairs. We look forward to working with the government to close the gap, but, as the member for Barton has also said, bipartisanship must not be a race to the bottom. We must be ambitious. We must genuinely listen and genuinely close the gap.