Bill's Speeches













Good morning everyone, I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land upon which we meet, and I pay my respects to their elders both past and present.

Professor Alan Cass, Professor Tom Calma, Minister Nash, Parliamentary colleagues, distinguished guests.

On this tenth World Kidney Health day we give special attention to tackling chronic kidney disease amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

It is unfair that this growing problem afflicts disproportionately high number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, many of whom are unaware they have this serious condition, even when suffering some of the symptoms.

And for those in remote communities affected by chronic kidney disease, going ‘off country’ to access treatment, can cause disconnection and isolation.

In recent years, a great deal of good work has been done to measure and map the disadvantage that blights the lives of the First Australians.

Today we can speak, with more informed precision than ever, of the gap that exists between the opportunities, lives and living standards of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples - and the rest of us.

And while there have been some improvements in reducing the impact of chronic disease, it remains a serious impediment in closing the gap in life expectancy and other health outcomes.

We know the rollcall of grim numbers, the impact of chronic kidney disease, the rise of other emerging afflictions like cancer on our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population.

Without doubt, this is an advance on than the days when our Parliament adopted a position of wilful ignorance.

But unless our improved awareness and understanding delivers better outcomes – we can’t claim this as real progress.

It will never be enough for our Parliament to merely measure the gap between our two Australia, to acknowledge our shortcomings and gather for formal displays of contrition.

We have to strive to be better.

Now I believe that Closing the Gap, delivering equal opportunity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, is Australia’s unfinished business.

It is a test that our generation must face and pass.

There’s been a bit of debate and rancour in the Parliament that somehow talking about someone’s problems of Closing the Gap is not bipartisan. I actually think it’s not bipartisan not to talk the truth because it is not a matter of allocating blame simply, but it’s recognising that in every Closing the Gap target, we can try and do better.

And in Closing the Gap targets in every one of them, we can see a relationship to our health.

After all, if you have problems with your health, you can find it hard to find work and to keep work.

If your children are sick, they will miss school and fall behind, or you must miss work to care for them.

If, because of your own illness, you slip through the cracks of education and employment – then in fact the risk of jail will double and triple, for especially young Aboriginal men.

The point that I make fairly simply about interaction and interconnection is an important junction.

What it means is that health is not just a social justice issue, although it fundamentally is, it’s an economic issue. The beneficial consequences of good health spreads to every other measurement.

Now today we stand here today with solutions in our grasp.

Addressing vision loss alone would close 11 per cent of our health gap.

Tackling smoking by boosting preventative programs reduces the rate of cancer and heart disease, and it increases life expectancy.

Smoking is a key risk factor for developing chronic kidney disease along with poor nutrition, poor living conditions, low birth weight and dare I say it, a lack of empowerment.

The prevention and early detection of chronic diseases must be front and centre in the pursuit of closing the gap in health outcomes.

The full implementation of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan is another irreplaceable step.

My colleague Warren Snowdon played an important part in developing this plan, but he would be the first to acknowledge that it was the product of a partnership.

It was shaped by listening to the voices of local people and local providers.

This ethos must be at the heart of our future action.

Building partnerships, trusting the community, listening to the people that know and live this great shared endeavour.

The Institute of Urban Indigenous Health and their ‘Deadly Choices’ campaign is I think a marvellous example of these values in action.

I love the idea that Deadly Choices is increasing the rates of kidney checks, pushing a strong anti-smoking message and helping tackle the management of chronic disease in South East Queensland.

Best of all the ambassadors for Deadly Choices are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people: positive role models, sending a clear message to their people.

Or you could take the combination of research institutes that have clubbed together to fund the Affordable Dialysis Prize.

All of us here in Parliament, Liberal, National, Green or Labor, we understand that sometimes the best ideas that an organisation need, don’t always lie within that organisation.

What I love about the cleverness of the Affordable Dialysis Prize, is it’s challenging the finest medical and design minds to produce a low-cost, more accessible and portable version of a dialysis machine.

Just imagine, imagine this invention that would enable people living in remote communities to get the treatment they need, without being forced off country and away from their support network of families and friends.

It highlights that role that translational research and innovation can play in improving lives of people most in need.

Just as health underpins every element of the Closing the Gap framework, meaningful, tangible progress on Closing the Gap is essential and twinned with delivering constitutional recognition of First Australians.

Recognition will be an uplifting moment, a long overdue act of justice, but it cannot occur in a vacuum, offering just words alone.

The last thing we want is for a rising generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be asking:

“What good is recognition if I cannot find a job?’

‘What is the point of historical justice, if I am denied basic, natural justice?’

‘What is the value of being included in the Constitution – if I am excluded from opportunity?

‘What good is a statement of equality, when I battle inequality in health and life expectancy every day?’

Now I believe constitutional recognition is important. I believe it helps set the space for further demands on closing the gap.

But I do not wish to insult intelligence of those for whom constitutional recognition would most affect.

If we don’t match our determination to deliver constitutional change with an equal effort to close the gap in health, life expectancy, education, employment and of course justice.

Anything less runs the very real risk of rendering recognition meaningless for people to whom it should mean the most.

I do not believe that we should go back down the dry gully of the false debate between ‘practical’ and ‘symbolic’ reconciliation.

We must ensure that each one works to enhance and amplify the other.

I say to our guests in Parliament today, the presence of so many Members of Parliament from all sides of politics should give you some quiet pause for confidence, because all of us are under no illusions as to the scale and the scope of the challenge, and also the opportunity.

But when we, and I’m sure I speak for the others here, get a chance to attend events like this, to listen to smart people talk, talk to people with real world experience.

When we can learn from the impact of community controlled services, the direct involvement of our first peoples in the planning and delivery of health services, in particular.

When I think about the goodwill and energy and vision that moments in the day such as this bring out in our Parliament, I am confident that we can rise to the challenge, I’m confident that we can be more ambitious than we are.

I’m confident that we meet the moment before us with a co-operation, creativity and the commitment that it demands.

We can and surely will close the gap, for now and for always.