Closing the Gap Lunchtime Address

Release Date: 
12 February 2020

Aunty Caroline, thank you very much for your Welcome to Country. Roslyn and to Richie. I would say I also want to acknowledge the Ngunnawal elders, the elders past and present, but also all the community members.

I want to acknowledge you Linda, as a longtime friend and as the shadow minister, Senator, Malarndirri. I also acknowledge Senator Dodson, all of the indigenous leaders who are here, and to all of my parliamentary colleagues.

Some 10 years ago, Tom Calma, as the Social Justice Commissioner, wrote a report on the levels of disparity and the gap that existed on a number of measures between us and Australian society.

Tom brought together a number of indigenous leaders and NGOs, Oxfam were involved, and those discussions led to them meeting with Kevin Rudd, suggesting that we had a commitment to closing the gap. And on a particular day in the Great Hall, I had the pledge on an easel and it was signed by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Brendan Nelson as the leader of the opposition.

That was the beginning of the journey of involving Indigenous Australians in the direction it needed to be taken. But it was not on an equal footing, it was on the basis that the agencies and the tiers of government would manage the targets, would manage the implementation and wherever possible involve Indigenous organisations and people.

But in more recent times, as we look at each year and we've seen the failure of all of us collectively. More influence on the prime minister was certainly welcoming of the whole concept of doing it together with our people. And I'll use 'our' ,with our people.

And Pat Turner, I want to acknowledge you because with the Peaks and yourself in meeting the Prime Minister, you influence his thinking to involve our people at the table.

And in the first ministers meeting or COAG, as we know it, there was that there was a deep consideration around the importance of having indigenous Australians sit at the table.

Ultimately, it was led by Pat and Nigel Scullion, who was the minister. But I felt a great sense of pride when Pat and I co-chaired the first COAG Council - Joint Council working on closing the gap-  two indigenous leaders from within two regions of Australia and that sent a very powerful message to the state and territory ministers who were sitting around that table, they acknowledged the historical context at that meeting and the commitments and agreements that were reached were important.

And to all of you who are involved in the Peaks, who sat at the tables and worked through the direction that we set in. And Ian Anderson, and the work my agency have done, we have made giant strides in a way that I have not seen in the history of this country, and when we had a cabinet meeting or meeting in the cabinet room recently with Pat sitting alongside the Prime Minister and all of us around that table contributing to the discussion, I felt immense pride for the young man Noongar man from my own country who spoke.

And I thought of the Ford family. And then to see the young man with pride, talk with confidence about a vision and a future was a powerful reminder of how far we've come.

We still have a lot more to do. And we can only do it if every tier and every level of community, but the voices in a community is as equally important as those of us who sit around the table. Linda and I represent constituents, we don't represent the Indigenous nation per se.

But we reflect our community in many of the discussions, Pat and Malarndirri do the same, Jacqui Lambie. So, Australia has come on a journey that is very different to the 50s that I grew up in. I also want to acknowledge you Warren Snowden, for the work that you have done.

That sometimes the boundaries of politics becomes a barrier. Let me say on the journey that we've been having, in regards to the future; those boundaries are breaking down. I also want to acknowledge Ray Griggs, who is the head of my Agency. Among the first things I did in my discussion with Ray was to say that we will co-design, we will engage with Aboriginal people.

We will not tell them what they're going to do. This is about coming together, banding together and striving for a better outcome that impacts the record of future generations and that we leave a legacy. And Pat, Linda, Malarndirri and the indigenous leaders who are here, we have walked a tough journey over many years.

Marion, I think of the discussions we've had at different times. But the journey is made common for all Indigenous Australians and that is for us to be a part of the future, a part of designing, a part of delivery and a part of shared decision making.

So I congratulate all who've been involved. I look forward to certainly a future that is much stronger and better. And Rachel Siewert, I also acknowledge your contribution as a Senator, but certainly someone who's been passionate and who I've often had discussions with on flights back to Perth and you happen to be on the same plane and when you're on a plane you're a captive audience.

But your passion and commitment as well, to closing the gap along with our people is equally strong as all of my predecessors on my side of government. And those predecessors to Linda in the Labor party.

Congratulations to everybody involved, to all of the elders here. I say thank you for the wisdom and knowledge and the journey that you've given and allowed us younger ones to have. So thank you very much.