Big River Impact Foundation - Program Launch

Release Date: 
17 June 2019

Perpetual, 123 Pitt Street Sydney
Monday 17 June 2019

In my own language, I say kaya wangju – hello and welcome.

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we’re meeting today, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and pay my respects to their Elders past and present and I thank Michael for his welcome this morning but also for his approach, which was interesting and very different – going to the elements of humanity which are absolutely the bedrock of our interactions with others.

And what I see here is the humanity of people with the same mind, coming together to do a piece of work that is absolutely life-changing and it’s important.

I also acknowledge:

  • Josephine Cashman, Chair of Big River Impact Foundation – we go back a long way in many senses, but a short way. I met you first in a significant way when you were on the Prime Minister’s advisory body. I was impressed with your capacity to have a vision but also your capacity to translate that vision to reality on the ground.
  • Adam Mooney, CEO of Big River Impact Foundation – we had a great conversation not long ago.
  • Robynne Quiggin, Chair of the Aboriginal Housing Office, NSW.
  • The Honourable Phillip Ruddock, a long-time, long-term, long-standing friend and colleague who I have shared many thoughts with. If he ever gives you a bear-hug, just go limp because when he gives you a hug it’s tight. He gave me a bear-hug on the day of my first speech, demonstrating his pride.
  • Karen Mundine, CEO of Reconciliation Australia.
  • Mark Smith of Perpetual – your partnership in all of this is important.
  • And the many distinguished guests with us today.

It’s an honour to be part of what you’re launching – I look at those rivers and I see the rivers of life.

I see the clumps of growth at the edges of those rivers, which are like many of our communities – they stand in isolation, and they’re strong and they are surrounded by Mother Earth and the waters that flow.

And your symbolism of “Big River” is probably an important one, it is the flowing of hopes and aspirations of many – hope and aspiration that you’ll own a home of your own.

But I think the thing that is important is that it’s being led by a strong and successful Aboriginal woman, joined by other successful Aboriginal women.

Working together with the corporate sector, Big River brings together wisdom, energy, professionalism and experience, as well as a fresh approach to investment and empowerment.

You also seek to combine philanthropy, industry, government, and community.

When all these strands are woven together, they have a much greater chance of achieving their shared purpose: that is, helping Aboriginal communities to flourish.

Over the years, we’ve learned a great deal about how to do that, as we move to fix what’s broken and to foster what works well.

We often focus on the broken, we don’t focus sufficiently on the possibilities of those things that work, and how we can build on them to make a better future.

For me, having worked across communities and governments, one of the most important lessons learned has been the power of working together. Listening firstly to each other, and then drawing on each other’s strengths and expertise, to make the quantum changes that we need to.

First Australians talking, walking and working with other Australians.

Bureaucrats engaging with businesses; corporates engaging with communities.

All sectors – public, private, NGOs and peak bodies – engaging with each other and with Aboriginal families, leaders and communities.

That’s where I’ve seen real change. That’s where I believe our shared future lies.

It’s what our refreshed Closing the Gap framework has at its core. Unlike the original process – well-intentioned though it was – we now have the opportunity to work in genuine partnerships.

Through COAG and with peak organisations, but – crucially – with people on the ground, so that we can collectively drive local, place-based solutions.

So they can pursue their own visions of health and prosperity, their own view of what makes a good life.

This is fundamental to Big River’s vision, too.

And at the heart of your efforts to work together and to build strong, empowered communities, you’ve put the goal of inclusive housing.

This work, innovative and collaborative, harnessing public-private partnerships to realise the assets of Aboriginal land, has the potential to change the lives of so many of our people.

If you think about home as the place you come from; the place where you learn about who you are; and the place where any journey you take begins – it’s clear that a lot depends on the nature of that home, and we heard that this morning.

We heard from a young mother, who talked about the importance of having a home, where her children can go back to.

A place where country can play a significant role.

We know that for many First Nations people in this country, home can be an inadequate place, an unhealthy place, a dangerous place.

We also know that First Nations people are half as likely to own a home, 5 times more likely to be homeless, and 10 times more likely to be in public housing than other Australians.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are often living with more insecure housing, more overcrowding, more disrepair, and they’re often more remote from services and infrastructure than anyone else.

All of this is connected to outcomes in health, safety, education, employment and economic development.

We know that intuitively.

Physical and mental health are both at stake: the stress of housing insecurity and overcrowding is compounded by the higher risk of disease and injury in crowded and poorly-maintained homes.

Mobility, insecurity, and higher rates of sickness all have an impact on a child’s ability to go to school and stay at school.

Overcrowding and instability make it that much harder to engage, to complete homework, and to build the foundations of lifelong learning.

The same is true of work: it’s that much harder to go to work and keep a job when your home is insecure or unsafe.

Over the past decade, the Commonwealth has invested $5.4 billion across the country through the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing.

The NPA has delivered 4000 new houses and 7500 refurbishments, and seen an estimated 15 percentage point drop in overcrowding.

The Commonwealth has invested strongly in remote housing because around a fifth of First Nations people live in remote areas.

But that doesn’t negate our responsibilities to those living in urban and capital city contexts.

We recently signed a new National Partnership for Remote Housing with the Northern Territory to invest a further $550 million.

From local decision-making to broader strategic decisions that guide the investment, an Aboriginal voice will be present.

Land Councils are now involved in how decisions are made and housing is designed and delivered.

All of this matters because better housing leads to better outcomes on so many fronts.

What I see here - in what Big River is developing and proposing – is a strength that will make an incredible difference over the next decade, but the challenges in providing houses across a geographically diverse nation such as ours are often fraught with delays over periods of time.

The tiers of government play an important and critical role - but they can also be impediments in the progress of putting into place housing that is needed in a much more timely manner.

The bilateral negotiations that occur between the States and the Commonwealth often delay progress to the extent that it impacts, particularly where you have seasonal changes.

I am very mindful of when I was in education when we built schools in the Top End – if we delayed a decision for a period of time, then the wet season made it very difficult to build those schools, so you’d waste another six months, delaying progress for important infrastructure.

So, around the tables of discussion that will have to occur, we will have to consider those impediments to look at how we streamline the processes – but, more importantly, how we bring the corporate sector of Australia to walk with us.

Because often our wealth is built on land and our wealth and capital improve when we build infrastructure on that land, that provides for housing and for the needs that are basic human rights for any individual, regardless of where they reside.

But what’s more important in terms of Aboriginal ways is that connection to country, it is “my country, my place”.

It is about having an opportunity to have something as a base from which you build the strength of your family and also the economic capacity to be part of an Australian society that has so much to offer.

I look at the capability amongst our people across this nation and I see a lot of it under-done.

I see a lot of it that is wasted, but I also see the under-utilisation, and through this initiative we have an opportunity of turning that around.

Investment in housing creates jobs and development in communities, as well as better homes for the people who live there.

It means stronger, healthier and wealthier communities. More opportunities for people to own their own home. Higher levels of care and commitment and cohesion.

And perhaps above all, a deeper and richer sense of belonging. A sense of being in place. Being at home.

For First Australians, belonging to our place, being at home on country, has deep resonance and power. It grounds and connects us. It allows us to flourish.

A few years ago, Stan Grant wrote a book called Talking to my Country, in which he said:

“When I was a baby, my grandfather held me in his arms; he was the son of a man born on to the frontier […] A frontier marked with violence, disease and death.”

Five generations later, Stan Grant could hold his own baby son in his arms, knowing how different his future would be.

“Watching my son sleep, hearing his steady breathing as we move through our land, calms me. I could be alone forever in these moments, surrounded by my country and with the boy whose bloodline through me stretches back an eternity. We are together in our place...”

As we say in traditional Noongar of my ancestors: “Ngyung moort ngarla moort, ngyung boodja ngarla boodja’, which translates as “My people our people, my country our country”.

Together in our place. Belonging to our home. These are our lights, our home fires, as we walk together toward that shared future.

I’ve lived a lot, and lived through a lot of change in this nation.

I believe we are in a new moment now, when the strength and contribution of Aboriginal people has never been more proudly celebrated.

When the opportunity for us to walk and work together as equals, and as partners, has never been greater.

I’m incredibly proud to be the Minister for Indigenous Australians. I’m committed to pragmatic action and cooperation, and I’m full of hope about what we can do to build a better future for our people and for Australia as a whole.

I thank Big River for everything that you do to bring us closer together and closer to that better, brighter future where everyone belongs, and everyone knows the peace and promise of a home, that is the basis for the future, the future of our children, and for generations to come – and that we stand equally beside fellow Australians.

Thank you.


Watch the video of the speech on the Big River Impact Foundation YouTube channel.