Bill's Speeches

CLOSING THE GAP BREAKFAST

THE HON. BILL SHORTEN

LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG

 

SPEECH

 

CLOSING THE GAP BREAKFAST

 

MURAL HALL, PARLIAMENT HOUSE

 

WEDNESDAY, 11 FEBRUARY 2015

 

 

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Thank you Alicia for that introduction.

 

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet – they’re the first lawmakers of our continent – and I’d like to pay my respects to their elders both past and present.

 

I’d like to thank Matilda for that warm welcome to country.

 

Prime Minister, parliamentary colleagues, Mick Gooda and Kirstie Parker, all of the honoured guests here.

 

I think sometimes, on occasions like this that we have an obligation to avoid the simply familiar. We understand in Australia there is a disconnect in our political process between Australians and what they perceive to be the political process.

 

Thus we have an obligation, I think, to talk to people about what they want to talk about.

 

That's why I want to talk this morning about Violet.

 

Violet is a Noonga, Yamaji and Wongai woman from Carnarvon in Western Australia.

 

When Violet was seven, she was taken from her family and sent to live with a family in Geraldton.

 

Two years later, Violet’s mother brought her home.

 

Violet was the first Aboriginal person to complete Year 12 in Carnarvon.

 

She tried a few different jobs – in Perth and in Esperance – before deciding to train as a mental health worker, working with Aboriginal people.

 

Violet’s message is simple, sincere and inspiring. She says:

 

“I want to try and be a role model to Indigenous youth that are out there.

To say ‘don’t give up, keep going’.

 

Although we’ve had some really hard pathways, there’s always a rainbow at the end if you keep trying.”

 

Today and every day of the year- right across our continent, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are serving their communities – you know them; they’re the role models, they’re the mentors, they’re the counsellors and they’re the carers.

 

They’re ordinary, modest heroes, all around us.

 

Whether it is reformed offenders helping build trust and co-operation between police and communities in Redfern.

 

Scholarship graduates running art and music programs in outback Queensland, bolstering young people’s pride in the world’s oldest living culture.

 

Respected elders working with community legal centres in Melbourne to break that vicious cycle of offending and incarceration.

 

And of course, there are young people like Alicia, who we just heard from, and the “Solid Young Sistas and Brothas” Aboriginal Youth Group right here in Canberra amongst us – nourishing culture and wellbeing.

 

So many of you here today know these success stories – many of you have authored them.

 

You also understand, better than most, the gravity of the situation we face.

 

The grim national reality of injustice, of inequality and of disadvantage that unfairly afflicts too many of the first Australians.

 

There are mighty challenges ahead of us all: in health, in education, in employment, in inclusion and in justice.

 

There is no underselling or understating their scale or their scope.

 

Today though, I see in front of me a picture of determined optimism – not despair.

 

We can choose active, confident answers for solutions – not just a passive totting up of failures and shortcomings.

 

As a Parliament, as a nation, today and every day our mission is to solve problems, not just to catalogue them.

 

To close the gap – not just to measure it.

 

This foundation’s first commitment – to close the gap in life expectancy between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the rest of us – is at the heart of every policy goal we seek to achieve.

 

Our shared mission is to guarantee the first Australians the most basic human right of all – the right to grow old.

 

I believe our immediate future progress depends upon fully implementing the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan. It was compiled by my friend Warren Snowdon and others, and developed in partnership with Aboriginal people.

 

Seven years ago, the previous government signed a historic statement of intent – a declaration that our success depends upon working together and learning from each other.

 

That still holds true.

 

Friends,

 

Empowering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, freeing our first people from a second-class life of exile is a cause and a calling that all of us hold dear to our heart.

 

I believe that Closing the Gap is a defining test of our nation’s total progress, our national progress.

 

It is an essential measure of our national success.

 

As the Prime Minister said, we are all on a journey, and we certainly do have a way to go.

 

But we are proud to walk with you – all the members of Parliament are proud to be with you. We are proud to be guided by you, the people who know and live this great shared goal of ours.

 

I thank everyone for what they’re doing to close the gap.

 

And I want to assure, that these are one of the issues were we genuinely work together.

 

Thank you

 

ENDS

 

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