I congratulate the Prime Minister on the address he's just given.
I acknowledge the traditional owners of this land and I pay my respects to elders past and present.
At the heart of reconciliation is a profound and simple truth: Australia is, and always will be, Aboriginal land.
First Nations people loved and cared for this continent for millennia, long before our ancestors first arrived by boat.
They fished the rivers, hunted the plains, named the mountains, mapped the country and the skies.
They made laws and administered justice here, long before this parliament stood.
They fought fiercely to defend their home and they have battled bravely ever since, against discrimination and exclusion, preserving, for their children and for all of us, the world’s oldest living culture.
In addition to the acknowledgments made by the Prime Minister, I would like to specifically acknowledge the work of Prime Minister Rudd and the member for Jagajaga, Jenny Macklin, who helped initiate this annual Closing the Gap address.
Yesterday, I was consulting my Indigenous colleagues about this morning’s address. And I asked them: What could I say to prove this day has value and meaning to our first Australians, to all Australians, to people who have listened to Closing the Gap reports and speeches for 11 years running.
How do we, in this place, demonstrate this is not just an annual exchange of parliamentary platitudes and rhetoric.
And Senator Malarndirri McCarthy said to me: “Just tell the truth about how you feel”.
And the truth is that feels a bit an ambiguous, doesn't it?
I feel that there is good news, but not enough good news. I feel there is hope, but not enough hope. That there is progress, but not enough progress.
And I feel ambiguous, because how do you talk about the good without varnishing and covering up the bad? How do you talk about the bad without presenting such a view that you ignore the good work?
But the truth is that at this 11th Closing the Gap exchange, I'm frustrated. I suspect many members of the House feel that frustration too.
Frustration, disappointment that after a decade of good intentions, tens of thousands of well-meaning, well-crafted and well-intentioned words, heartfelt words, from five Prime Ministers, we assemble here and we see that not enough has changed.
Mind you, I was halfway through expressing these views to the colleagues, when Senator Pat Dodson cut me off, and he said:
“Comrade, how do you think we feel?”
And, really, that is our task, to put ourselves in the shoes of all the people who are giving everything to this endeavour.
I speak of the heroes at Deadly Choices driving huge improvements in frontline health services.
The brilliant kids of Clontarf and Stars and Girls Academy and so many other great education and mentoring programs.
I speak of brave women and communities leading initiatives against family violence.
I speak of the fearless campaigners for justice at Change the Record.
I speak of the Indigenous Rangers right now on country, ensuring that all of us can understand and share in the wonders of country their people have called home for 60,000 years.
I speak of the First Australians who enrich every facet of our national life: as leaders and achievers in education and sport, medicine and the law, environmental conservation and academia and politics and art and music and comedy.
I speak of the mums and dads and aunties and uncles, the elders and the grannies doing their very best to keep children and families safe, to keep community together.
There is no question, that we should recognise and celebrate their boundless hope and patience and perseverance, often in the face of overwhelming odds.
But we must recognise their frustration too.
We should today acknowledge, that it's not just the gap in life expectancy or health or educational results or employment opportunities. It’s the gap between words and actions, the gap between promises and results.
The good ideas and practical initiatives of people on the frontline that get swallowed up in the morass of paperwork and process and waste and lethargy.
The committee recommendations, coroner’s reports, judicial inquiries and Royal Commissions that have been left to gather dust.
Of course these years of neglect and indifference are punctuated by bursts of unilateral ‘interventions’ and ‘crisis meetings’ and ‘emergency action’.
And law after law, policy after policy, about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, written without Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
So in that spirit, I welcome the new partnership between the Commonwealth, the States and the Coalition of Aboriginal Peak bodies - and the change in thinking that that represents.
I’m conscious that the Peak organisations have done the heavy lifting too, to date, with limited resources.
And I congratulate them for persevering, for refusing to meekly accept the draft framework that was presented to you as a fait accompli in the past and instead, asserting your right to a permanent place at the table.
My colleagues and I deeply respect your role as advocates, as experts and as Aboriginal community-controlled organisations, committed to Closing the Gap.
If we are successful at the next election, you will be central to setting policy and seeing that it is implemented, collaborating with frontline services and community leaders at local and regional level.
Partnership in action, not just words.
Plainly, after ten years, refreshing the Closing the Gap targets is necessary.
But this can never mean lowering our sights, reducing our targets, limiting our ambitions.
And while I understand the Prime Minister is trying to make a point about the dangers of a ‘deficit model’, even the mindset of a ‘gap’.
The uncomfortable truth is that there is a stark gap between the Australia we inhabit and the lives of too many First Nations people.
There are deficits, in justice and jobs, in health and housing, in the opportunities afforded to Aboriginal children who go to school far from where we send our own kids.
It is not the targets that have failed. It’s we who have failed to meet them.
It is not the targets that have failed. It is we who have failed to meet them.
This is the hard truth this report demands we confront.
The truth about ongoing discrimination and disadvantage.
The truth about families and communities being broken by poverty, violence, abuse, addiction and alcohol.
The truth that there are still men and women being arrested, charged and jailed – not because of the gravity of their offence, but because of the colour of their skin.
If this parliament can’t admit that racism still exists in 2019, then we're just wasting the time of our First Australians today.
If we can’t admit that racism still exists, then how on earth do we ever fix it?
This isn’t political correctness, it’s just stating the obvious, it's the truth.
The truth that Aboriginal people are still suffering from diseases the rest of us never know, still dying at an age when the rest of us are contemplating retirement.
And the truth about children and young people who are suffering violence, taking their own lives in numbers and circumstances that should shame us all to action.
Last week, Senator Pat Dodson responded to the coroner’s report from those 13 indescribably tragic deaths in the Kimberley.
He spoke of ‘unresolved trauma’, a sense of suffering, hopelessness and disillusionment. And above all, he said, none these can be fixed by answers imposed from outside.
The solutions depend on a say and a sense of empowerment and self-worth for young people. And a sense of hope for communities and regions, power in the hands of people who truly live and understand the challenges they face.
Simply put, if we seek to see real change in the lives of First Nations people, then we need to change. Change our approach, change our policies.
And above all, change the way that we make decisions. We need to let First Nations have real control in how decisions are made.
So this is where partnership, the word partnership, where the rubber hits the proverbial road.
If we say that we want partnership with our first Australians, then we don't get to pick and choose our partners' values or priorities.
For more than a decade now, Prime Ministers and Opposition Leaders of both the main parties have stood in this place and said we want to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in partnership. But you don't get to tell your partner what to think.
It is that spirit of partnership which we saw at Uluru in 2017. First Nations people took up the invitation, 250 delegates presented this parliament with their vision. Countless dialogues, thousands of people consulted.
I concede that what the First Australians came back to us with wasn't what we were expecting. But that's the challenge of partnership, isn't it?
When the partner says: "I have a different set of priorities and if you really respect me, you will listen to me."
They came back with a Makarrata Commission to work with National Congress, Land Councils, First Nations leaders and states and territories to continue the work of truth-telling and agreement-making.
And our partners said to us, "We seek a Voice enshrined in the Constitution."
An institution with national weight and local connection, bringing a powerful sense of culture, community and country to the shape of policy and its delivery.
A meaningful, permanent say for Aboriginal people in the decisions that affect their lives.
Not a long demoralising slog measured in inches of progress.
Not starting from square one every time a particular issue breaks into the broader national consciousness.
Not a sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’ in the backdrop of everything that we do.
Our partners want genuine engagement with humility on the Parliament to acknowledge their role, to recognise that genuine empowerment has to involve the sharing of real power.
You can't have a partnership of unequals. Partnership means giving as well as taking, listening as well as telling.
Today I am proud to declare again that enshrining a Voice for the First Australians will be Labor’s first priority for constitutional change.
If we are elected as the next government of Australia, we intend to hold a referendum on this question in our first term, as our partners have asked us to do.
I am optimistic that reform can succeed, the referendum can succeed, because the proposition we should include our First Australians in the nation's birth certificate is an idea whose time has come.
It enjoys powerful support across communities, business and Australians young and old.
We will seek bipartisan support.
This is not about building a “third chamber” of parliament, it is not a matter of “separatism” or “special treatment”.
How on earth, in the light of this Closing the Gap Report, with such devastating statistics and tragedies behind these numbers, can we say that we're giving special treatment to people who don't even get the same treatment?
This isn’t about favouritism, or conferring unfair advantage. It is about recognising inequalities, centuries old. Bringing honour to our nation.
It’s about recognising that powerlessness is created by prejudice and by discrimination and breaking these chains which hold, not just our First Australians back, but actually chain us all back.
It’s as simple as the fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples do not start from a level playing field now.
And that true equality of opportunity is measured not by legal standing, or theoretical notions but by lived experienced, by the tangible chance every Australian deserves to get a great education, a good job, to live a happy, fulfilling and healthy life, to see their children grow up and flourish.
And to those who dismiss constitutional recognition as “symbolism” or “identity politics”. Perhaps, unwittingly, that final phrase is closest to the truth.
Because enshrining a Voice in the constitution is most certainly about identity. About our national identity, all of us.
It's about who we are, as Australians.
Are we a people who can recognise our First Australians in our constitution, as part of our national identity. Are we big enough, are we brave enough, are we smart enough and generous enough to recognise historical truth, to commit ourselves to equal opportunity and to write that into our constitution.
And in the end, this is why, despite all the well-known impediments, the historical difficulties of changing our constitution, I remain optimistic that the referendum can and should gain support.
Because beyond the specific wording of any particular question, as important as that is, this represents a simpler, more elemental test.
A test about what we say about ourselves to the world, a test of what we teach our children about what it means to be Australian.
It's a test of our generosity, of our basic, human decency.
It's a test of whether or not we are fair dinkum partners in the journey to the future. A test of our innate and instinctive sense of fairness.
I believe that if we trust the people of Australia with the opportunity to broaden the definition of the fair go, to make our constitution more true to who we are, to describe who we are, they will repay the trust of parliament in overwhelming numbers.
And, Mr Speaker
I say to those who somehow believe that constitutional change stands in the way of progress on other fronts, I can promise this.
If we are elected as the next government of Australia, seeking to enshrine a Voice in the constitution doesn’t stop us from building the new houses that we need to.
It doesn't stop us from embracing the initiatives to encourage more teachers that we've heard about.
It doesn't stop us training more Aboriginal apprentices or doubling the number of Rangers.
It won’t prevent us from bringing together, in our first 100 days, people from all over the nation, the police, the child saftey people, families, to work out what must be done to protect the next generation of First Nations children.
Because we must address the two-pronged crisis in the abuse occurring in communities and the trauma being inflicted in out-of-home care.
A Labor Government committed to a Voice will still invest in Aboriginal health care providers, the champions who make such a difference to new mothers and their babies.
A Labor Government will make justice reinvestment a national priority, because youth detention and jail time for young people should be a rarity, not a rite-of-passage.
I acknowledge the Prime Minister’s announcement today regarding HECS relief for teachers, commitment to education is welcome. But we want people teaching in remote schools because they want to be there, and we will work to encourage that. And we want more local Aboriginal people, trained as teachers and nurses in their communities.
And to achieve real improvements, there must be not just specific funding, but real needs-based funding for schools and investments in early education, universities and TAFE. Not just in the bush but in our cities and suburbs, where our first Australians also live, so Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children everywhere get the same chance as every other Australian child to get a great education. This is the focus and purpose of Labor’s policies.
We will support Australian languages in this International year of Indigenous Languages.
We will provide compensation to survivors of the Stolen Generations from Commonwealth jurisdictions and create a National Healing Fund for descendants managing intergenerational trauma. Because saying sorry must always mean making good.
And we will abolish and replace the Community Development Program, not just because it is discriminatory, demoralising and punitive but because it is completely counterproductive and ineffective.
Labor believes in the dignity of work and that is why we want people living in remote communities to work with dignity.
And this isn’t just a job for government alone, I want to work with business and the unions to launch a trades and skills offensive, this is a call to arms. A mass-mobilisation of training, TAFE and apprenticeships, to bring good jobs to country.
Because funding projects in remote communities should not involve bringing contractors and tradies from the other side of Australia. We should give our own young people in these communities the pathway to be the tradespeople of their communities.
This will be our approach, not grants without evidence or accountability but programs that put communities and regions back in control of their resources and their futures.
In conclusion, Mr Speaker, yesterday, you and I were present at the unveiling of the striking portrait of the Member for Barton.
She wasn’t counted in a Commonwealth census until she was 14 years old. Now her painting will hang on the wall of the Commonwealth Parliament as an inspiration for generations to come.
And if we are successful at the next election, she will be one of two First Australians in our new Cabinet, there on merit, for First Australians, and all Australians.
For those who seek to visit Linda’s portrait, it's near the Barunga statement. A bare 327 words presented to Prime Minister Hawke in 1988.
It was a vision for self-determination, for local control, for treaty, truth-telling, national reconciliation.
And just like the bark petitions from Yirrkala.
Like the tent embassy on the Federation Lawns.
Like Clinton Pryor’s Walk for Justice, or Michael Long’s a decade ago.
All represent a message of hope.
Proof that despite all the failures and shortcomings and the unfulfilled promises of political generations past, there is still a belief out there amongst our First Australians and indeed all Australians, that this place, this parliament, can play a worthwhile, valuable role in reconciling Australia.
The Uluru Statement offers us that chance, a chance to capture the spirit of the signatories at Barunga.
The Gurunji at Wave Hill.
The grand campaigners of 67.
The extraordinary victory against the odds of Eddie and Bonita Mabo.
And all the other peoples and cultures and communities who have fought and won for their own patient struggles for justice.
We have a chance for Australians to celebrate the unique culture of our First Nations people, their ongoing contribution to the life of our nation.
A chance for us to affirm their special place in our nation’s history and its future.
We have a chance for healing and unity and reconciliation.
And to take a further step to ensure that the next generation live to see and know an Australia where the gap is closed and the suffering has subsided.
So, with hope, with pride and with trust and faith in all of us, let us take up that challenge.