1 year ago




66 SENATE Tuesday, 14 February 2017 resources and efforts at those jurisdictions that are failing. At the other end, in high school, the news is getting better. We are on track to halve the gap in year 12 attainment by 2020. But, just as a precautionary note, whilst the headline figures on this look good, I think you would not have to drill in too much to know that remote Australia is not doing anywhere near as well as metropolitan Australia. The news gets better for those who go on to further education. With tertiary qualifications, Indigenous Australians have exactly the same employment outcomes as non-Indigenous Australians. In 1971, less than five per cent of working-age Indigenous men had a post-school qualification. By 2011, this proportion had risen to 31 per cent. It is still trending upwards for both men and women. In 2005, there were more than 8,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in higher education award courses. Ten years later, there are more than 16,000— that is a 93 per cent increase, compared to a 47 per cent growth for all domestic students. We know the focus needs to shift from enrolments to lifting retention and completion rates. That is why we have focused our funding and our interventions on ensuring that people are not only enrolled but staying in there, investing $253-odd million in the Indigenous Student Success Program. I know this is going to ensure that we can translate those enrolments into completions, which should be the figure that we think is important. The employment gap is another target where the short-term gains are not on target but where the long-term trend is heading in the right direction, and we are making inroads in all localities. Since September 2013, more than 47,000 jobs have been created for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians under employment programs in my portfolio. As I have indicated, that is about 60 jobs per day. The Community Development Program has accelerated progress in employment since July 2015, placing more than 12,000 jobseekers into jobs and outside of the CDP system. Twelve months ago, the Prime Minister said that government has to focus on doing things with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. That is a change from transactional government to enablement, from paying for services to linking funding with outcomes and from a one-size-fits-all mindset for program design to local solutions. Grants and national programs like the Community Development Program and the Remote School Attendance Strategy are driven by locals and by local needs. Our network of staff, many of whom are Indigenous themselves, are working with communities and organisations to develop these local solutions. The reforms to the Indigenous Advancement Strategy have enabled a far more strategic and flexible approach to the government's investment in Indigenous Affairs to achieve better outcomes on the ground while relieving the administrative burden and red tape for organisations servicing Indigenous communities. We have to work with stakeholders, listen to the views of those on the front line and make the changes necessary to get it right. We need to make those changes swiftly to ensure that the change can happen in the context of the information. I seek leave to incorporate the remainder of my remarks. Leave granted. The remainder of the speech read as follows— Recently, I announced $40 million over four years to strengthen the evaluation of Indigenous Affairs programmes. This is the next step in our important IAS reforms and will allow us to better deliver what works — from the perspective of those receiving services, not providers. Building on foundations (State and territory accountability and smarter targets) Closing the Gap is everyone's responsibility and it was important COAG reaffirmed its commitment to Closing the Gap. States and territories are continuing to identify opportunities to support Indigenous economic development on Indigenousowned land. They have agreed to work with the Commonwealth to improve their Indigenous procurement policies so that they mirror the success of the Coalition Government Indigenous Procurement Policy and those set for Indigenous employment and suppliers undertaking infrastructure projects. And with some targets due to expire, we will have discussions about refreshing the Closing the Gap targets. Each of the states and territories has recognised that it is not as simple as merely setting new targets and we would be remiss in our duty to get this right if all we did was pluck new figures out of the air because they sound ideal. So we will work through COAG to consider whether the current breadth of targets adequately reflects the complexity of issues faced by Indigenous Australians. We need smarter targets in the sense that they need to be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. We also recognise that, while the Commonwealth has powers under the constitution for Indigenous Affairs and we report these targets to the Federal Parliament, in reality, the states and territories are at the frontline of improving the lives of Indigenous Australians. As we set new targets, we will improve accountability to ensure that we don't return to the mindset in which we set and forget. CHAMBER

Tuesday, 14 February 2017 SENATE 67 Professor Chris Sarra, who is newly appointed to the Indigenous Advisory Council, said it best a few years ago when he said, 'For decades, Aboriginal people have signalled a dramatic sense of frustration about politicians who think that it's enough to throw money at a solution when we'd all prefer for them to sit down and do things with us, not to us, in the interest of making a difference.' Today, together with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, we are working to ensure communities can be at the centre of the design of policies and the running of programmes. I have to say I am looking forward to the challenge in this critical year ahead to build on what's working and change what's not. Senator WONG (South Australia—Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (17:37): I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to elders past and present. Nine years ago today, Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd rose in this place to right a great wrong and to deliver the long-overdue apology to the stolen generations. In the following February, to mark the anniversary of that address, Prime Minister Rudd delivered the first Closing the gap report to the national parliament, and it made very sobering reading. It was not a partisan report. It did not seek to ascribe blame to either Labor or Liberal, or any party. Instead, what it made clear was this: there has been no greater failure in public life in this nation than the failure of governments—both state and federal, Labor and Liberal—to ensure our First Australians enjoy the same quality of life as all other Australians. And, so, it is right and proper that every single year in this place we are reminded of what we have achieved and we are reminded of where we have fallen short, and we are reminded of what is working and of where we need to do better—until we are no longer just closing the gap but until it has been eliminated, and until all the peoples of our first nations enjoy equality as with all those in our nation. Again, this year's report confirms we are falling short, with just one of the seven targets on track to be met. The Closing the Gap targets emerged from the December 2007 COAG meeting, when first ministers agreed to close the gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians by embracing seven key targets. Sadly, this year, nine years after this parliament received its first report on progress to achieving those targets, just one of seven Closing the Gap targets is now on track to be met—that is, halving the gap for the number of Indigenous students completing year 12 or its equivalent. Five of the remaining six other targets are not on track. These are: closing the gap in life expectancy by 2031; halving the gap in literacy and numeracy by 2018; closing the school attendance gap by 2018; and halving the unemployment gap in the same year. The seventh, which is a target of 95 per cent of Indigenous four-year-olds enrolled in early childhood education by 2025, shows mixed results nationwide. It is not to say that there has been no progress or that we are going backwards. Whilst there is still much more to do, I think it is important to recognise the achievements, as well as our failures. Too often in this place there is a tendency to say that it is all too hard and that the disadvantage faced by our Indigenous Australians can never be overcome—that we should all just give up. There can be few more important pointers to a nation's progress than its ability to prevent the avoidable death of a child. While the target to halve the gap in child mortality by 2018 is not on track, the Indigenous child mortality rate has declined by 33 per cent over the last 17 years. Overall, the total Indigenous mortality rate has declined by 15 per cent between 1998 and 2015. Eighty-seven per cent of all Indigenous children were enrolled in early childhood education in the year before full-time school, and the attendance rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students is 83.4 per cent. Whilst the targets to halve the gaps in reading and numeracy are not on track, half of the eight areas for years 3, 5, 7 and 9 literacy and numeracy do show statistically significant improvements. The one area of significant improvement is that the proportion of Indigenous 20- to 24-year-olds who have achieved Year 12 or equivalent increased from 45.4 per cent in 2008 to 61.5 per cent in 2014-15. And that was over a period where there was little change for the rest of the population. However, there has been a decline in Indigenous employment, with the Indigenous employment rate at 48.4 per cent, compared with 72.6 per cent for non-Indigenous Australians. So the report card reads: some improvement, but a long way to go. It is a long way from even being given a pass. So the message, again, today is that we must try harder—much, much harder. But, above all, we must neither lose hope nor lessen our resolve. Earlier today in the Labor caucus I was privileged to witness a welcoming ceremony conducted by Senator McCarthy and Linda Burney from the other place. I was also privileged to witness a deeply moving speech by Senator Pat Dodson. As leader of the Labor Party in the Senate, can I say what a privilege it is to serve with such extraordinary representatives of their community and of their people. Behind me is Senator Dodson, a man who has dedicated his life to reconciliation—to real reconciliation—between our peoples. I look forward to his contribution shortly. He gave a deeply moving speech. It was a speech that reminded us that nine years ago the CHAMBER

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