Bill's Speeches

Closing The Gap






Good morning everyone.


I would like to thank Aunty Matilda for warm welcome to country.

I'd like to acknowledge the Prime Minister, Richard Di Natale, Leader of the Greens. I would also like to acknowledge Jackie Huggins, she is doing a great job at Congress with Rob Little as well.


Also, if I can acknowledge all the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who are here and if I might, without fear of triggering controversy, acknowledge Tom Calma and the remarkable President of the Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs who stands up for all things Australian.


This is, and always will be, Aboriginal land.


I acknowledge the traditional owners, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, and I pay my respects to elders past and present.


And I can tell you that as the leader of the Labor party, those words of respect carry a solemn promise.


To do our best, to work our hardest to Close the Gap and deliver true equality in health, housing, education, employment and justice.

I thought about what I would say this morning and I decided to share Sam’s story with you, in his own words:


“My name is Sam. I am a 21 year old Aboriginal man.


My Nana raised me and my two siblings.


Growing up we didn't have much. As a teenager I was struggling.


Between 2008 and 2011, I started stealing to survive.


I was arrested and have spent time in custody.


When I was in legal trouble I used Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement.


I saw family members sitting in prison and then doing the same thing day after day when they were eventually released.


I soon realised quickly that isn't the life I want to live.


I didn't have any role models or supportive people in my life.


I eventually gained a Youth Mentor with White Lion.


I started making better choices.


I haven't been in trouble for four years. I have been in a stable relationship for the last two years.


I am a father, my son David was born in November 2015.


I live in my own home, I have my full licence and I have my own car.


As of next week I will have a job as a Youth Mentor.


I want to be in a position where I can be a positive influence and help better the lives of Aboriginal youth.


I want to be a leader in my community and most importantly I want to be a strong Aboriginal role model for my son.”


Sam’s story: the story of an individual empowered, seizing an opportunity to fulfil their potential, to transform their life - this is what Closing the Gap means to me.


Not simply that conservative cliche saying “if the Aboriginal people would just pull themselves up by their bootstraps”.


Telling people that don't own a pair of boots to pull themselves up by their bootstraps is not help.
In this Parliament we are powerful - the Government a little more powerful than the Opposition - but we are all collectively powerful.
We have the power here to help provide that helping hand, to provide important community-led Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander controlled culturally appropriate services.
Delivering for every one of our first peoples who are currently denied a full and equal share in our nation’s future.
This week, in our Parliament and around our country we ask Australians to face up, to remedy together, the entrenched unfairness that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples confront every day.
This is about facing up to the facts.


It is always a dilemma, isn't it? Do you look at all the good things that are happening and be a bit too blue-sky and try then to overlook the problems. Or do you just simply look at the problems and then somehow you are perhaps not acknowledging the progress.
I don't think we have to resolve that question, I think we just have to be honest. And if the honesty is uncomfortable listening, well we need to listen even harder.
We need to tell the full truth. What we see in the mirror as a nation, and indeed what we want our kids to see in the mirror of the nation when they grow up.


We do have shameful incarceration rates. It is wrong that an Aboriginal man of 18 is more likely to go to jail than to University.
It is wrong that we still have trachoma in our Indigenous communities.
We are a first world nation. We love being the best at something. It would appear amongst the first world nations, we are the worst at dealing with trachoma.


But if we are ever tempted to say the gap is too wide…or the mountain is too steep.


We should remember Sam’s story, or indeed, the backstories of the people introducing Malcolm, myself or Richard.


Because when one life changes, that changes the life of a family.
If we change the life of a family, we can change a community.
If we can change a community, then we can change the nation.
And friends, when we change the nation, we will Close the Gap.