Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Straight Talk Summit

Location: Parliament House, Canberra

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Thank you Matilda for your welcome to country.

I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land where we meet – the Ngambri people who as Indigenous Australians have one of the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

And I want to thank Oxfam for bringing us all together today.

You know one thing I’ve found as I’ve met Indigenous women across Australia is their great capacity for ‘straight talk.’

They don’t beat about the bush and they demand the same straight talk in return.

I know whether I’m in Yuendumu or Aurukun, Halls Creek or Fitzroy Crossing, Walgett or La Perouse – I can depend on Indigenous women to give it to me straight.

This forum is so important at many levels. For those of us in Government to learn from you; for you to learn from one another and for all of us to re-invigorate our collective determination for change.

The diversity here in this room is remarkable.

Eighty-eight women aged from 18 to 77. From all over Australia. From all backgrounds.

Elizabeth from Western Australia was brought up on the Rabbit-proof fence. She’s spent her life helping young people and is here to share her knowledge and experience to drive change.

Melanie Gamilmil Mungunggurr is a young woman also from WA who works as a juvenile justice officer in prevention and diversion.

She describes herself as enthusiastic with so many goals, aspirations and ideas she wants to share.

I’m sure, Melanie, this forum is giving you that opportunity.

Crystal Lee Duncan, an Aboriginal Client Service Officer in Moree, wants to end the division she sees in her community – between local families as well as Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

She started by organising the first Moree Murri Gaba Nginga Corroboree, which she says has helped bring a divided community together.

And Lara Fujii, all the way from Badu Island in the Torres Strait, who’s a graduate of the Indigenous Leadership program run by my department.

She’s currently studying Indigenous legal advocacy – Lara is a face of the future for Indigenous Australians.

I think all of us recognise that women are often the strong functional core of a community – the natural helpers, the organisers, the conciliators.

This is one of the reasons why we have expanded our Personal Helpers and Mentors program to make sure people in remote communities who are natural mentors – often women – can be paid to help others in their communities with a severe mental illness.

It means they receive Government support and recognition for what they already do so competently and responsibly. Helping and mentoring, building relationships, caring for the most vulnerable.

The program is already available in Yuendumu, and will be rolled out in the Kimberley and Broome areas of WA, as well as the APY Lands in South Australia.

Over the next few months, the program will be redesigned specifically for remote communities.

It will be a more flexible program, promoting the spiritual, cultural, mental and physical healing for Indigenous Australians living with mental illness.

We are also establishing a Healing Foundation which will have a special focus on the Stolen Generations but will also address trauma and healing across the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

Lowitja O’Donoghue and Greg Phillips have been appointed to oversee the consultations and establishment of the foundation.

We need Indigenous women in leadership roles.

We need the voice of women to filter upwards onto the boards of community organisations. On to the land councils. On to the boards of corporations. And into national leadership.

Darumbal elder Ethel Speedy here today from Rockhampton, believes the training and up-skilling Indigenous people into positions of influence and authority is the only solution to heartbreaking issues like the high suicide rate in many Indigenous communities.

Ethel understands this at both the personal and professional level.

She has seen terrible sadness, losing a son, grandson and two nephews to suicide.

And she’s worked in Queensland Corrective Services for 16 years advocating on behalf of Indigenous people in jail.

Ethel says Indigenous people need to take on more responsibility.

“We need qualified and skilled Indigenous people doing the work of professionals,” she says.

Indigenous women are 44 times more likely to be hospitalised for assault than other Australian women.

We know that if we are to restore social norms in communities – to make sure children are safe and well, to put an end to violence against women and children we need strong voices to speak out and take action.

Many of the voices I hear when I visit Indigenous communities are women’s.

Strong, dedicated, capable women who have the interests of their communities at heart.

June Oscar and Emily Carter from Fitzroy Crossing who withstood community pressure to lobby for restrictions on takeaway alcohol. They said “we had to fight for our families and our future”.

Emily said that she began to lose her hair through this fight because they faced so much opposition and hostility from people they knew.

But they found backing from strong cultural leaders and strong families, and pushed ahead.

One year following the restrictions there has been a 43 per cent reduction in reported domestic violence, 55 per cent decrease in alcohol related presentations in hospital and 88 per cent reduction in the quantity of alcohol purchased.

Increasingly there is acceptance that family violence is not just women’s business. It’s everyone’s business.

Last year 400 Aboriginal men stood up together and said violence against women and children must stop.

They gathered at the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress Male Health Summit and offered a collective apology, now known as the Inteyerrkwe Statement.

In a powerful and moving statement, John Liddle, chair of the summit, apologised on behalf of Aboriginal men, for the hurt, pain and suffering caused by Aboriginal men to their wives, children, mothers, grandmothers, granddaughters, aunties, nieces and sisters.

And just last month at a national forum on reducing violence against women and children, men offered their support and leadership.

The men and women at the forum recognised that attitudes didn’t just need to change among men. They needed to change among women too.

They acknowledged that abuse and violence aren’t normal. That there can be no excuses.

Yesterday in the Parliament, the Prime Minister spoke of the long-term commitment to close the gap.

He said in the past year the foundations of our closing the gap agenda have been laid – and they are strong foundations.

He spoke of resetting the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

A new relationship, to build a new future for all Australians, based on trust and respect.