Long and healthy lives, thriving children and strong students, housing and infrastructure, justice for all, strong families, connection to country, culture and languages: these are the areas of work that the Closing the gap report focused on in what is a new approach that’s bringing targets and outcomes together in groups, reflecting the fact that individual targets in isolation do not reflect a full picture. When we look at this year’s Closing the gap report, we see that only four targets are on track. This does reinforce for all of us how much work still needs to be done.

The Closing the gap report tells us that, when it comes to advancing the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, we’re not where we should be. We’re not where many Australians would want us to be, and our government knows this. We know that, in order to see improvement, we have to work in new ways. Australians do want us to close the gap. They do want Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to lead good lives and to have the same opportunities and life expectancy that the rest of our community has. The reality is that there is much work still to do. As a government we are not daunted by it, but we do recognise that this will require focus and determination from us—and focus and determination on working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who know what’s best in their communities. We have seen time and time again that the approach of governments dictating how outcomes should be achieved has not got us the results we should have. It’s not always easy for governments—particularly national governments—to take the approach of allowing things to be locally led but, certainly, when it comes to how we close the gap, it’s an approach that we must take.

Yesterday we marked 16 years since the National Apology to the Stolen Generations. I went along with many members to the breakfast that was held here to commemorate that anniversary. It was a privilege to be in the room with many members of the stolen generation as well as many outstanding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders and members of the community—a number of leaders who have held leadership positions for so long and worked so hard for so long but also a number of younger Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are picking up the baton and working in their communities and across this country for better outcomes. I was so struck by the strength and resilience in that room. There was no despair. There were asks of government. There were people holding government to account. But there was no despair. It was so impressive to see those people both members of the stolen generation and their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership coming together with those of us here in the parliament to both mark that occasion and talk about what comes next, to make sure we do know and understand the stories of members of the stolen generation and that we are reminded of the failures of governments over many decades and to strengthen our resolve to continue to enact change. As the Prime Minister said, the people there showed that when we have an honest reckoning of the past we give ourselves a better future.

It was also a reminder, I think, that that apology wasn’t a foregone conclusion. That apology happened because good people made it happen. It was the work of decades of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people calling for that moment of healing. It was the work of a new Labor government led by Prime Minister Rudd and the then minister for Indigenous affairs, my predecessor as the member Jagajaga, Jenny Macklin. That moment changed our nation. It was a moment of healing. Marking the anniversary yesterday felt particularly important given the result of the referendum last year. As the Prime Minister said, our government absolutely accept the result of that referendum, but we know that it has been a very, very difficult result for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the country. In fact, it has been a very, very difficult result for a number of people who voted yes. I know in my community, where we did have a ‘yes’ vote, people felt great sorrow after that result, and they wanted to know: What comes next? What do we do next to continue that healing in the country, to continue the work that absolutely must be done?

I am pleased that yesterday the Prime Minister made two important announcements. The first of these was on the Remote Jobs and Economic Development Program. For too long the failed CDP has not delivered job opportunities for Aboriginal people, so this is a new jobs program providing people in remote communities with real jobs, proper wages and decent conditions. This includes, importantly, superannuation and leave. It has been developed by our government in partnership with First Nations people, funding 3,000 jobs over three years. This program is all about helping people in remote communities to get proper jobs, which will then help their communities grow stronger. Local and community organisations will be employing people across all regions where the Community Development Program had been in place.

This is being complemented by our government’s new $185 million Community Jobs and Business Fund, helping communities pay for projects that will create jobs under this remote jobs program. So a community could receive funding, for example, to establish or grow its own community controlled horticultural enterprise and employ local people, a win-win helping to support food security, generating economic opportunities and giving people skills and on-the-job training and accreditation. You can see how this program can come together to offer so much to communities in a way that is led by them and by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Importantly, our government also announced the introduction of a new role, the National Commissioner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children and Young People. This role will start later this year. Indigenous children are almost 11 times more likely to be in out-of-home care than non-Indigenous children. That is just simply not acceptable. It is a tragedy. We know that, once a child is on that trajectory of out-of-home care, it is very hard for them to get their life back on track. So we all have a responsibility to do more about that. That’s why it is important that we will have this new commissioner role that will highlight this really important issue but also problem we have right across our country and work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians on evidence based programs and policy to advocate for and amplify the voices of First Nations children, those children in out-of-home care who haven’t had that voice before, who have not been able to talk to policymakers about their experiences and what should happen next for them. This is so important if we want to see the next generation grow up and thrive, and of course we all want to see that. We do not want to see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children on a trajectory that leads to lower life expectancy, that leads to worse outcomes across their lifetimes. We can do so much better than that in this country. I think this commissioner being in place is going to be very important, helping to address the disadvantage experienced by too many Indigenous children and families.

I pay tribute to the national body, SNAICC; it spent a lot of time advocating for this. I also pay tribute to the peaks, who have worked so hard on closing the gap and on working with government and community to find a new approach to closing the gap. The peaks and the Aboriginal controlled community organisations demonstrate to us that when we work in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people we get better results. We see it in our health system, where the NACCHOs, the Aboriginal community led health organisations, get the results that other mainstream services could only dream about. We see it in successful programs like the Indigenous Rangers Program—people working on country in a program that is culturally appropriate and that delivers results not just in terms of jobs but in terms of community and the environment. I have been in community and seen those rangers, and seen how respected they are for the work they do that connects them to country and provides that benefit to the community and the whole country. That’s the approach we have to take across the board—that approach of working in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and finding solutions that work for them, that aren’t decided here in this place, that aren’t rolled out by people here in this place or people in Canberra—as excellent as some of those people must be!

We need to do more; our government is really clear about that. We are focused on that. I am pleased with the work and the announcements that have come out of this year’s statement, and I look forward to being part of continuing to close the gap.

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