Address at the COAG Indigenous Remote Service Delivery Engagement Workshop
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I want to begin by paying my respects to all the elders past and present on whose land we are meeting today.
Many of you have travelled a long way to be here.
I would like to particularly thank the representatives of the state and territory governments who are partnering with us to deliver our reform agenda.
All of you are here because you have hopes and aspirations.
Back home, whether it’s Galiwin’ku or Wilcannia – you are working to build a future for your communities.
Whether it’s through economic development and business, strengthening cultural pride, helping kids to achieve at school or dealing with tough issues like alcohol and drug abuse, you are the natural helpers in your communities.
Often this means speaking up for what you believe in.
Even when others don’t agree with what you say.
In the Kimberley, June Oscar, Emily Carter, Michelle Kwilla and the women of the Fitzroy Women’s Resource Centre fought for alcohol restrictions.
In Halls Creek, Doreen Green and Robyn Long also took matters into their own hands.
Today in those communities alcohol restrictions are in place.
And those communities are safer places for it.
At Fitzroy Crossing – a 43 per cent reduction in alcohol related domestic violence.
And half the number of people seeking emergency treatment for health related injuries.
At Yirrkala, 50 adults and 50 Nippers are on regular patrol on Shady Beach – fully trained members of the community’s new Surf Life Saving Club.
And with four rescues already made – Shady Beach is a far safer place to swim.
When communities like these become agents for change, when they act to rebuild social and community norms, it’s up to government to be there with help and encouragement.
So when the kids at Yirrkala patrol the beach to keep people safe, we provided the funds to help them get started and to buy the equipment they need.
When parents make the tough decision to battle alcohol abuse or welfare dependency, the Government will support them as they strengthen their families and rebuild their lives.
Governments are responsible for many things.
But there are some core, precious things in family and community life which pivot on the decisions of individuals and their leaders.
As Mary Victor O’Reeri says of her own people, “we are the people we’ve been waiting for.”
This is the personal responsibility that is at the heart of family life and the foundation of strong communities.
Parents working in jobs and taking responsibility for their family’s wellbeing and economic security and their children’s health, safety and education.
When strong men and women in Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek make the decision to impose alcohol restrictions its governments’ role to support people to take back responsibility for their lives.
For families who’ve lived in the shadow of alcohol abuse re-establishing the most basic routines can be challenging.
Anyone who is a parent knows that cooking meals for children, making sure they have a shower and brush their teeth, getting them out of bed in the morning in time for school can be an uphill battle at the best of times.
Raising children and managing day to day routines can be a hard slog no matter who you are or where you live.
But when you’re struggling to emerge from alcohol-fuelled dysfunction you need all the help you can get.
Which is why I am pleased to tell you today that we are investing up to $7 million to provide Indigenous Parenting Support Services in each of our priority locations as part of our accelerated and targeted Remote Service Delivery Strategy.
To provide targeted help to vulnerable families.
Including assigning caseworkers to help with everything from planning meals for the week ahead, to acting as link with other essential support services.
As I’ve said, for those of us in government, it is our responsibility to provide the structures and support people need to live safe, healthy and productive lives.
So all children get a healthy start in life, have the opportunity to go to school, get the best education and a good job.
To achieve this means facing up to the reality that the old ways of doing things haven’t worked.
The old ways have failed so completely that Indigenous Australians now lag far behind non-Indigenous Australians on all key health, education and employment indicators.
It means a child born today in a remote Indigenous Australia community is at risk of disadvantage – even before birth.
At risk of being born with foetal alcohol syndrome – causing lifelong learning and behavioural difficulties.
At risk of living in a squalid, overcrowded house.
At risk of neglect and violence.
At risk of erratic schooling and limited job opportunities.
And as a result of this – at far greater risk of dying prematurely.
This is not something that has happened over the last five, ten or even 20 years.
Decade upon decade, the combination of poor policy, ineffectively delivered has crippled the life chances of generations of Indigenous children.
To start turning this around we must do things differently and better – much better.
That is why we are fundamentally re-engineering of our approach.
That’s why governments at every level have signed up to a concentrated and accelerated approach to tackle deep-seated disadvantage through the Remote Service Delivery Strategy.
Replacing the old, ineffective scattergun approach with a coordinated effort – initially concentrating resources in priority locations across Australia.
With an across-government investment of more than $187 million over six years in priority communities.
At the same time other communities and townships will, of course, continue to receive government support and services.
Our benchmark is to progressively deliver – in priority communities or townships – the facilities and services you would expect in any Australian town of the same size.
Houses where the lights switch on, where the water comes out of taps, where you can cook on the stove.
Where there are streetlights at night, police on the beat, a community hall to meet in, a sports oval to play footy on, a health clinic, a school with teachers.
The same infrastructure and services that support and sustain healthy social norms so people can reach their potential and businesses can thrive.
But none of this can be achieved without the people in this room. We are hoping that you will become lynchpins in implementing the remote strategy in you communities back home.
Indigenous people like you must be engaged in developing and driving solutions. Otherwise those solutions just won’t work. It’s that simple.
The remote strategy is moving forward.
I know that Fitzroy Crossing has already held a two day workshop to start developing its plan for the future – setting out concrete targets in health, housing education and training.
With a special emphasis on reducing the incidence of foetal alcohol syndrome.
To oversee the program and make sure services are delivered when and where they are needed the Government has appointed a Coordinator General for Remote Indigenous Services, Brian Gleeson.
This is a new role to cut through the bureaucracy to make sure we get results where they are needed – in communities on the ground.
I encourage all of you to take the time to get to know Brian while you’re here. And to stay in touch with him and keep him posted about how things are going in your community.
Brian has started talking to people on the ground about the implementation and opportunities of our new approach to service delivery.
He has the authority to scrutinise public servants and where necessary will name underperforming departments, agencies or individuals.
At the same time, Brian has told me how he’s determined to develop a culture of, not naming and shaming, but ‘naming and faming’ – shining a light on all the good things happening in so many communities – like the things being achieved by the people in this room.
Like the project in Wilcannia where, in just a few months, school principal Robert Malcolm has increased school attendance from less than 50 per cent to more than 65 per cent.
Yes we must confront community dysfunction and family breakdown.
We must tackle the perils of welfare dependency, violence and alcohol abuse.
But we must not forget to celebrate the countless achievements that are happening on the ground and the progress we are making.
It’s this broad range of perspectives and experiences that I hope the UN Special Rapporteur Professor James Anaya will be exposed to while he is in Australia.
As you know, Professor Anaya arrived in Australia this week for a 10 day visit.
I welcome Professor Anaya’s visit and look forward to his report as the Australian Government continues working to meet the great challenge of closing the gap, underpinned by our determination to re-set the relationship with Indigenous Australians.
The initial discussions I’ve had with Professor Anaya have revealed we share much common ground – on the legitimate entitlement of Indigenous people to all human rights.
Human rights based on principles of equality, partnership, good faith and mutual benefit.
This is a commitment that is expressed through this Government’s strong positions like our support for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous people and through our commitment to re-instate the Racial Discrimination Act before the end of this year.
Professor Anaya and I have also discussed the Government’s firm commitment to the most basic of human rights – the right of vulnerable people, in particular women and children, to live free of violence, abuse and neglect.
Measures like income management may be controversial, but at their heart they are delivering on a most fundamental obligation – protecting the human rights of the most vulnerable.
All of us here today understand the scale of the challenge we face.
But if we work together.
If we accelerate and concentrate our efforts.
If government, communities and individuals shoulder their responsibilities, change is possible.
And together we can make closing the gap a reality.