Australian Davos Connection Future Summit 2010, Indigenous Affairs – The Next Chapter, Melbourne
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I want to begin by acknowledging the First Australians on whose land we are meeting, and whose cultures we celebrate as among the oldest continuing cultures in human history.
And I also want to pay my respects to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who are today’s guardians of these ancient and unique cultures.
Cultures which both define and enliven our national identity.
Cultures that touch all of us who have come here after the First Australians.
It’s a pleasure to be here today. And can I start off with an apology for not being able to stay for the whole of today’s session. I can see it’s going to be great.
I’ve got no doubt that the panellists will do an excellent job discussing the challenges and opportunities for Australia’s next chapter of Indigenous affairs.
Today’s setting is a stark contrast to my surroundings in the last weeks.
Two weeks ago I was up in the Territory with the Governor General for the hand over of Gregory National Park, now named Jupurra, to its traditional owners.
It was a momentous occasion. It had been subject to native title claim before a landmark agreement between traditional owners, the Northern Territory and Australian Governments to schedule the land as Aboriginal freehold.
The land is being leased back to the Northern Territory for 99 years so it can continue to be enjoyed as a national park. It will be jointly managed by the Territory Government and traditional owners.
In celebrating the handover, Wali Wunungmurra, the Chairman of the Northern Land Council highlighted the opportunities this would create for employment and economic independence.
The handover took place not far from the site of the Wave Hill walk off and I was privileged to meet senior people who remembered that time. Their emotion and pride witnessing the return of land to their guardianship is something that will stay with me for a very long time.
After the hand over ceremony, I was in Alice Springs to check on progress with transforming the Alice Springs town camps.
In December last year, after extraordinarily difficult negotiations, we got the long-term leases to give us the security of tenure to underpin our reforms. This was the green-light for unprecedented investment and action – in housing, in jobs and training, in family support, and early intervention.
Work is underway on the first new houses and on the existing houses that are being rebuilt and upgraded.
While I was in Larapinta Valley mother of four and grandmother of 12, Pam Lynch, moved into her newly built home.
She was especially proud because her grandson was one of 13 local Aboriginal men, who trained to be trade assistants with Tangentyere Employment Services.
He was part of the construction team.
I’m sharing these two stories today because they reflect the Government’s key priorities in working to close the gap. They are useful bookends to our approach.
First, in places like the Alice Springs Town Camps we are addressing decades of under-investment in services, infrastructure and governance.
We recognise the failure of successive governments – on both sides of politics – to adequately invest in Indigenous communities.
And we are now providing unprecedented funding of $4.6 billion through the Council of Australian Governments to begin closing the gap.
In education, health, social housing, remote housing and infrastructure, remote services and governance and in improved access to mainstream services for urban and regional communities.
We are delivering this new investment in ways that transform communities. Ways that rebuild the positive social and economic norms that are necessary for strong communities and healthy families.
When we build infrastructure and houses, we do it in ways that give local people the skills to get and keep a job. When people get a house, we expect them to be responsible tenants – to pay rent and report maintenance problems.
As well, we are working to re-set and strengthen relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, and empower Indigenous people to drive solutions.
As the people with the greatest stake in closing the gap, Indigenous Australians are pivotal to driving change.
We know that solutions must ultimately be driven by individuals and communities – otherwise those solutions just won’t work.
We must work together in good faith to re-establish mutual trust and respect.
That’s why we have supported the establishment of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples and look forward to having a respectful and productive – if sometimes robust – working relationship with them.
I know Sam and Kerry will have more to say about the Congress shortly.
We reversed the former Government’s position and pledged our support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Just recently we nominated an Indigenous woman – Megan Davis, an Indigenous human rights scholar – and she was successfully elected to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous issues.
We have legislation before the parliament that will re-instate the former Government’s suspension to the Racial Discrimination Act under the NT Emergency Response. We know that while the suspensions are in place Indigenous people will not be equal partners in driving change.
These are all important, necessary steps. But they are not sufficient for strengthening Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations.
We must also find ways to drive change on a more emotional dimension in both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia.
Over the weekend, I walked with Michael Long on the Long walk. The pride and positive emotional power of everyone taking part was strong.
When I see the great work of groups like the AFL, Clontarf and the NRL – when I see what they achieve emotionally as well as practically – I know we must find more ways to heal and unite, to restore dignity and pride.
Generations of hopelessness have damaged people’s ability to take control of their lives.
Changing this means recognising the great importance of pride in identity – being confident of who you are and where you come from. And it means healing the wounds of the past.
Which is why we are supporting a Healing Foundation to work on the ground in communities to restore cultural pride and help families to break the cycle of trauma and grief.
And it’s why we are working across government with cultural institutions, educators and researchers to preserve and revive Indigenous languages. And overhauling the process of the repatriation of Australian Indigenous remains from overseas to make sure they are more inclusive of Indigenous aspirations.
Pivotal to our agenda – and a driver for the future – is finding ways for Indigenous people to be economically independent and play a greater role in the economic life of the nation.
If we want more Indigenous people to be economically engaged, they must have access to the basics of secure housing, education, and training.
They must have the skills to get and keep a job and to take advantage of business opportunities. Ultimately, they must have a sense of financial security and independence.
Economic participation means more opportunity. It means higher levels of personal responsibility. And it means new partnerships and relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
For Indigenous people – like other Australians – participating fully in economic life usually starts with a job.
A job creates stability and security. It means daily routines like going to work and getting enough sleep. And who can doubt that seeing their parents going out to work each day is the best role model a child can have?
And a job means financial responsibility – it means managing money and the possibility of saving for a home or an investment.
We have driven major change in the areas of Indigenous employment.
Through our employment reforms, more than 1,500 properly paid jobs for government service delivery have been created in place of the old subsidised work programs under CDEP.
Since July last year, over 18,000 Indigenous job placements have been recorded by Job Services Australia.
In the 2008-09 financial year, more than 28,000 Indigenous people began training or employment – an 18 per cent increase on the previous year.
Increasingly, Indigenous people are seeing the potential of becoming involved in commercial and business opportunities.
At the same time, more and more Australian businesses are working with Indigenous people, and doing business with them, and achieving great things.
We are determined to find ways to better harness and build on this commitment.
We have appointed a Business Ambassador, Mr Colin Carter, to work on leveraging these partnerships, and to find ways to expand opportunities for Indigenous businesses.
And to bring this agenda together, today with my colleagues Mark Arbib and Julia Gillard, we are releasing a consultation draft of the Government’s Indigenous Economic Development Strategy.
The draft strategy sets out an ambitious forward agenda in five key areas to expand the opportunities for Indigenous Australians in the economic life of the nation.
Through access to quality education – that starts in pre-school, encourages Indigenous kids to stay at school, supports them with the best teachers, strengthens literacy, and helps them on the path to get a job.
Through employment – boosting services to connect people with employers, better matching Indigenous employees’ skills with what employers need, encouraging employment in growth areas like health and aged care, making sure Indigenous people face the same incentives and rules to work as other Australians, working with the private sector to promote Indigenous employment, and leading the way through increased public sector employment.
Through self-employment – with supporting finance for start-up businesses, looking at alternative funding models including equity and venture capital and micro financing, support for private sector partnering and mentoring , and encourage increased purchasing from recognised Indigenous businesses, by both the public and private sectors.
Through legal, welfare and governance frameworks – including the productive use of native title assets, a national consultation on the tax treatment of native title and focusing on the interaction of native title, Indigenous economic development and the tax system.
And making sure the welfare system provides incentives and encouragement to get children to school and individuals to work.
Through financial security and independence – including expanding access to home ownership through affordable home loans, improved security for lenders and new funding models like community trusts and shared equity schemes.
The strategy will not just be whole of government, it will be whole of community.
We want Indigenous people, businesses, and non-government organisations to help drive the way forward on this critical issue.
And we want the input and views of the people in this room today.
So if I could leave you today with this invitation – to include in your discussions the vital role of Indigenous economic development in moving forward with closing the gap.
As an expander of opportunity – through employment and economic activity.
As a driver of responsibility – through jobs and financial planning.
And as forger of new positive relationships – in new business settings and through shared economic interests.
I look forward to hearing your views.