I want to speak about the Uluru Statement from the Heart, because it is such an important document and an opportunity that we should not just let pass us by. Much of the conversation around the Uluru statement has been focused on a voice to parliament. I fully support a voice enshrined in our Constitution, but there is another part of the statement that gets less attention but which seems particularly relevant to our national conversation at the moment. That’s the call for a makarrata, or a truth-telling process.
It is the case that most of us in this country grew up with a view of history that was not complete. It was told from only one point of view. I well remember being in primary school and making my projects about the settlers and the explorers, but there was a chunk of what happened that I hadn’t heard about to include in my history project. As my colleague and First Nations woman Linda Burney has said, some of the massacres that occurred in this country happened just one generation ago. They have, necessarily, left scars. It will hurt us to look more closely at them, but we cause far greater ongoing hurt for First Nations people if we are not prepared to do this work. Doing this work would not make us less as a nation; it would make us more. It doesn’t have to be a culture war; it can be part of reconciliation and part of healing.
In the last few weeks, so many people in our community have been showing us that they are ready for this conversation. I want to thank all the people in my electorate who’ve contacted me, urging the parliament to progress the Uluru Statement from the Heart. It is time for leadership from this place to make that happen. It’s time for voice, treaty, truth.
Doing this work makes us so much more likely to get progress on the areas where the experiences of First Nations people are still unacceptable. The 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody found that Aboriginal people are more likely to die in custody, because they’re arrested and jailed at disproportionate rates. As of March this year, 28.6 per cent of the male prison population is Aboriginal, yet Aboriginal people only make up three per cent of the total population. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are more likely to be held in custody for traffic offences, unpaid fines or minor offences than white Australians. Since the royal commission, 434 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians have died in custody. My colleague Senator Pat Dodson in the other place, who obviously knows far more about this subject than me and has a long history of fighting for improvements in this area, made a speech that was far more eloquent than I could make on this very topic just last week. I urge everyone to look at and listen to that speech, because it is so important.
Being honest about our history also means we can be honest about the work that we need to do next. This is important at the moment with the Closing the Gap Refresh process that’s occurring. The Coalition of Peaks, a new group of Aboriginal peak organisations, have been leading the way in this process for Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations to deliver the services that First Nations people need. They’ve been demonstrating that, without a voice at the table and without genuine investment, we don’t get progress.
We’ve heard a lot in this chamber about the Closing the Gap targets and progress and too much about a lack of progress. What we need to hear about is a new way, and that’s one of the things that’s on the table for us now if we’re prepared to do the work, if we’re prepared to listen to Aboriginal people and put their voice at the table. The Coalition of Peaks made the point that those targets that we hold up can be meaningless if governments aren’t willing to change the way they work, if we’re not willing to cede some of that control that we hold so closely and to put these voices front and centre.
They’re also meaningless without proper funding. You can’t close the gap if you don’t fund it. You can’t change someone’s life if they don’t have a roof over their head. You can’t help families keep their kids with them, rather than in custody, if they don’t have a clean kitchen to feed them from. These are really big issues that our nation—let’s be honest—has not done a good job of confronting. We have the opportunity now; let’s not let it pass us by. It’s time for us to endorse the Uluru Statement from the Heart.