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Indigenous Affairs

Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this matter of public importance. I acknowledge the desire to accelerate progress of closing the gap. At the same time, I acknowledge a number of other things. My government does have a plan to close the gap, and that plan is being monitored, measured and adjusted.

I believe that we are united with those opposite to see the plan deliver real, life-changing outcomes and that we all wish to see speedier progress. We agree that governments—just like those opposite—have tried and failed, and that there are no simple answers. Certainly money is not the answer. And I agree that divisive debate is not helpful.

I also note that to close the gap we must work together, because nothing is more important for me, as the member for Durack, and for my Indigenous Durack constituents. Transformation cannot be rushed. A long-term focus on health and wellbeing is required to underpin progress in education, schooling, jobs and meaningful work, safety and security.

To put his debate in perspective, I think it is helpful to reflect on some of the targets outlined in the recently released Closing the gap report. Closing the gap in life expectancy within a generation is not on track. Halving the gap within a decade in mortality rates for Indigenous children under five is on track for the longer term. So that is some good news, there.

With respect to closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous school attendance within five years, new targets have been set against the 2014 baseline to close the school attendance gap by 2019. I am assured by Minister Scullion that we are starting to have some wins in that respect. So we have seen some improvement but, overall, this is not a good report card. As government continues to develop programs and policies, the process involves audits, assessments and reviews of what does and does not work. We are aware of the review work around service providers and contracts, and we are seeing a shift. Increasingly, providers will be rewarded for results; not for spending time on process.

Accountability must improve. Governance must improve. The government is focused on putting in place the right parameters in order to achieve quality outcomes for Indigenous people. There is much to do, and we wish to accelerate progress, but not at the risk of diluting real sustainable outcomes that will improve the lives of Aboriginal Australians.

As I like to do in these debates, I will turn to my electorate of Durack. My role is to lobby and work to improve the lives of Aboriginal people in Durack. I have the best electorate in Australia—big, beautiful and challenging—with 90,000 constituents and 1.6 million beautiful square kilometres. And with 274 Aboriginal communities in Western Australia, the majority of which are in Durack, I have a lot of skin in the game. No-one wants to see Aboriginal people forced to leave the land they love—been there; done that. We know that did not work.

I respectfully acknowledge that today is the national day of action against closure of Aboriginal communities. I want to assure the people at the rallies in Geraldton and Canberra—and in other rallies that were held in my electorate of Durack today—that I firmly believe that there is no intention of the state government of Western Australia to start closing Aboriginal communities. I have received that assurance personally from Premier Barnett.

As the parliamentary secretary said earlier in this debate, Colin Barnett has some work to do around remote Aboriginal communities. There is an acknowledgement that there needs to be more consultation, communication and planning. As I understand it, his deliberations will take account of a number of constraints. That will not be a surprise to any of us here.

Many of the 274 remote Aboriginal communities are small. Realistically, it is difficult to provide education, health and employment opportunities in these communities. There are 1,309 Aboriginal people living in 174 of the smallest communities. That is an average of just 7.5 people in each of those 174 communities. I think it is very important for us to keep that in perspective when we are talking about what is a community.

Of course, there are other, wider issues around alcohol, drug abuse, a lack of employment, and inadequate health care and education. The state government of Western Australia will have no choice but to deal with all of these issues. I agree with the member for Hasluck that it will take the Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders to come together to truly bring about the closing of the gap. Thank you for the opportunity to contribute today.

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