Senator O’Neill (New South Wales) (15:24): You would think that, of all days, this is the day that the Liberal Party would get this right. Those sitting here in the chamber today represent the Australian population. I want you to remember this day and participate in holding every government to account, on this day, the day of Closing the Gap, for the continuing egregious way life conditions of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters. What you’ve just heard in the answers that were given today in response to questions by the Indigenous leadership here from the Labor Party—Senator Dodson and Senator McCarthy—was a whole lot of hot gobbledygook and nonsense about state and federal responsibilities. Make no mistake: this government is running from every single financial responsibility it can run from and blaming the states for a failure of delivery of services, and that’s what we saw again here today.
Over in the other chamber, I went to listen to a very, very mediocre speech from the Prime Minister on Closing the Gap—but with no proposal to actually close the gap—and a much more inspired response from the Leader of the Opposition, who said this:
… for 10 years and four prime ministers this has been a day of words. Sometimes we’ve heard good speeches in defence of not so good results … We can close the gap … And it’ll be First Australians … who will show us how.
The First Australians will show us how. They are asking questions. While this government quibbles over whether it’ll have a conversation with South Australia or Western Australia, they are standing here and telling us that there’s a family in Alice Springs—and it’s not just one family; this is repeated around the country—where one group of 20 people are sharing a bathroom. I’m sure that most of those sitting in the gallery, and the people who might be listening to this debate, would not be in a situation where there are 20 people sharing one bathroom.
Senator Dodson opened his remarks by quoting the World Health Organization and saying how important housing is, as the fundamental place in which people can live, can live healthily and can support their children so they can participate in education. These are basic things that our country—our wealthy, safe and free country—can make a commitment to delivering. What did we see today in question time? This quibbling, this sharing of blame and this abrogation of responsibility from a minister who has absolutely failed to deliver.
Safe, appropriate housing is what Senator Dodson has asked for. Safe, appropriate housing has been delivered by, as Senator McCarthy indicated, 640 jobs that’ve been generated through this scheme that’s about to come to an end on 30 June this year. Indigenous businesses are benefiting from this scheme. There are 850 Indigenous apprentices and trainees who have benefited from the scheme. But is the fact that it’s working, and the fact that it’s having a positive impact, enough to keep this government on track? Absolutely not. They’re ready to walk away.
What we heard today was a minister who didn’t quite clearly say it but basically said, ‘Well, the national partnership’s dead; we’re going to bipartisan arrangements now with the states.’ This is important. We need national leadership, not little deals done on the side out of a framework of attacking the actual challenges that lie before us in addressing the need for remote Indigenous housing.
Today over in the other place, the Leader of the Opposition said of the national apology:
… 10 years on, the apology, in so many ways, speaks for itself … when, at long last, the government finally asked forgiveness … somehow, the stolen generation found it in their hearts to grant forgiveness in the spirit of healing.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, first nations people across this country, took a deep breath 10 years ago and said, ‘We might trust our governments again.’ Targets were set and, in addition to failing on this housing target, we’ve got a government that is ready to start changing the targets.
What we saw today in discussion about housing is a smaller view of this large failure that we’re seeing from Malcolm Turnbull’s government of walking away from the practical need to respond to real and pressing issues: housing, health, education and access to services. These are the things that continue to plague our first nations. Today, on the day of Closing the Gap, remember that you’re in this place. Keep watching, because in 10 years I don’t want to be part of a government, or an opposition, that sits and continues to look at these sorts of statistics.