Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.
I, too, acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today and offer a very warm welcome to our special guests in the gallery: our fellow Australians who were part of the Stolen Generations, members of the Coalition of Peaks, and a special welcome to Deb Edwards – Dr O’Donoghue’s niece.
I also acknowledge those members of the Stolen Generations and their families who will be watching this broadcast from across the nation.
Today, in annual tradition, we also honour the memories of those members of the Stolen Generations and their families who are no longer with us.
Strange – as the Prime Minister points out – not to have Pat Dodson here on this day as well, and we wish him all the very best with the medical issues he confronts at the moment.
Mr Speaker, 16 years ago, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered the National Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples.
The National Apology was about Australia coming to terms with the dark chapters of our past.
It was about ‘the cold, confronting, uncomfortable truth. Facing it, dealing with it, moving on from it’ – as Prime Minister Rudd said.
But the National Apology was also delivered in a spirit of optimism about Australia’s future.
Prime Minister Rudd spoke about ‘a future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country’.
Prime Minister Rudd spoke about a new beginning.
He spoke about building a bridge between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians – and the importance of crossing that bridge.
He spoke about going forward with confidence to embrace our future.
Mr Speaker, our annual commemoration of the National Apology anniversary is testimony to the fact that we are a mature nation.
While we rightly celebrate the achievement of modern Australia, we do not forget the dark chapters of our history or fail to heed their lessons.
And yet, we are still far from realising that optimistic vision for Australia which Prime Minister Rudd, and each of his successors, spoke about over the course of the last 16 years.
These failures are not confined to a single party, a single government, or a single institution.
There has been no decade of failure, as the Prime Minister put before.
There has been collective effort across the aisle, across administrations, across levels of government, across NGOs and across communities over the course of that period of time and for many, many decades before that.
These failures are not a lack of good intent, or a lack of goodwill, a lack of effort, or indeed a lack of funding.
What, then, characterises our collective failures?
Well, it is true we have been too content to maintain approaches which we know are not working.
We have made the mistake in thinking that more bureaucracy translates into better outcomes.
And we have allowed some sensitivities to be prioritised ahead of the rights of the individual whereby our authorities are afraid to act, or indeed, won’t act.
Mr Speaker, the Government’s announced a $707 million programme to create 3,000 remote jobs over three years through the funding of community organisations.
It’s an admirable aim.
Prime Ministers successively have made similar announcements, provided additional funding, talking about opportunities to grow jobs, to build houses, to address health needs, education needs, in many communities, but in many situations the aspiration has just not been achieved.
The Coalition naturally wants to see more jobs available to support the lives and livelihoods of Indigenous Australians to help turn the tide of disadvantage.
We support the Government in their cause to provide more housing as a fundamental need of those in Indigenous communities and far beyond that.
But we call on the Government to identify the specifics of this programme.
It’s too important to allow it to be an aspiration not achieved.
From which sectors, industries and employers will these jobs come?
What infrastructure is, or will be put in place to support these jobs – and will that require additional funding? And, if so, how much?
What proportion of the $707 million will go toward communities, directly into those organisations to provide support for the outcome.
And what amount will go into administration of the programme?
Will this programme include the $185 million Community Jobs and Business Fund?
Will it be run from Canberra?
How much autonomy will be provided to those in Indigenous leadership positions?
If this is the case, will it be managed within existing public service resources, or will it require additional public servants here in Canberra?
There are some on the other side who scoff, but these are important questions to ask.
And they need to be answered.
Because successive Liberal and Labor administrations have offered up the same goodwill, but the outcomes – as the Prime Minister rightly points out – have not been delivered.
If almost three quarters of a billion dollars is to be spent on this programme, there must be guarantees – that the 3,000 jobs figure is achievable rather than simply being a wishful target.
And we want to work with the Government to make sure that it is achievable.
The Coalition received the last Commonwealth Closing the Gap Annual Report just a few hours ago.
But from our cursory glance, the report reveals that while some progress has been made, we are continuing to fail our most marginalised Indigenous brothers and sisters – especially those living in remote communities, and particularly women and children.
As the Prime Minister has pointed out, of the 19 socio-economic outcomes, only four are on track to meet their targets.
As we know in communities like Alice Springs, the news coverage continues to demonstrate that the situation on the ground remains dire.
That we wouldn’t talk about it, or be prepared to air it in this place, is part of the problem.
Not much has improved, to be honest, since we were here for 15th anniversary, or the 14th, or the ones many years before that.
And there are many other places around our nation where Indigenous Australians are living unimaginable lives.
Australians have voiced their burning desire to see the national situation alter.
They want action.
They want things to change.
And indeed, all of us here want to see practical solutions implemented to close the gap.
We all want to see law and order boosted which is the very foundation of a functioning society.
We all want to see school attendance and employment opportunities improved.
We all want to see health outcomes enhanced.
We all want to see the best opportunity available for young kids in Indigenous communities, particularly remote Indigenous communities, that they may share in the same opportunities as their city cousins.
And yet, we all must accept the fact that if we continue to do more of the same, we will only get more of the same.
That’s why, today, I renew my calls for the Government to implement a Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse in Indigenous Communities.
The Prime Minister has today announced the establishment of a National Commissioner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children and Young People.
The findings of a Royal Commission would certainly support the work of this National Commissioner.
Furthermore, the Coalition has proposed an audit into spending on Indigenous programmes.
That audit is something every parliamentarian should welcome if they truly want to close the gap.
We need to make sure that the money is getting into programmes that will deliver support to Indigenous people on the ground.
Last week, the Productivity Commission publicly released its Review of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap.
The report notes that, in most jurisdictions, it is unclear how much funding is allocated to Aboriginal community-controlled organisations and non-Indigenous, non-government organisations.
And yet we know, as the Prime Minister points out, that in many of those programmes, good work is being undertaken.
We know that, again, despite some of the Prime Minister’s earlier remarks that many Indigenous voices are involved in programme design and service delivery.
In some of those programmes, they have achieved significant success.
In other programmes, they have not.
The reason for most of this is because most governments have either not undertaken or not published the expenditure reviews that they agreed to undertake.
Billions of dollars, Mr Speaker, over many decades have not translated into the outcomes that Indigenous Australians deserve – only more bureaucracy and more bottlenecks which prevent the money going where it is needed the most.
Mr Speaker, if we are to achieve practical improvements, then we need to take necessary and needed action which makes a difference on the ground in Indigenous communities.
Only then may we begin to realise that optimistic vision for Australia which Prime Minister Rudd spoke of 16 years ago.