Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

LIFE Luncheon – Caring for Indigenous Australians

Location: Sydney


I would like to first acknowledge the Gadigal people, the traditional owners of the land we meet on today.

It is a pleasure to be with you today.

Thank you, Julie [Rosengren], for your kind introduction and to the Life Institute of Family Education for instigating this great event.


I have to say, today’s setting is a stark contrast to my surroundings for most of the week – I’ve been up in the Territory visiting some remote communities.

On Monday I was in Yuendumu, a community in red desert country community, nearly 300 kilometres from Alice Springs.

Population 700 – 200 of them children. On Monday in Yuendumu a thirty year dream became reality.

The community, through its hard work and determination, officially opened its new swimming pool. Parents have been working hard for this. For them, Monday had been a long time coming.

It was a scorcher. The kids were irrepressible, fidgeting through the formalities, desperate to get into the water.

It will be hard to forget the wonderfully chaotic scene as they jumped in – all arms and legs and happy laughter.

Dozens of slippery wet kids squealing and splashing with excitement – the joy of being cool and wet in the desert heat.

And dozens of parents watching on and beaming, taking so much pleasure from the happiness of their children.

I’m sharing this story because it reflects our shared commitment to support Indigenous families and give children a decent start in life. And it also reflects the kind of policy priorities the Government is committed to.

All the evidence shows us that pools make children healthier – reducing ear, nose, throat, eye and skin infections. Not to mention encouraging them to learn a sport.

But now if you’re a child in Yuendumu and you want to swim, you have to turn up for school. Parents know this – and they know they need to play their part and take responsibility for getting their children to school.

The pool in Yuendumu is so much more than a bunch of kids cooling off in the heat. It’s also achieving a number of policy priorities.

  • Rebuilding community norms through levers to increase parental responsibility.
  • Improving children’s health.
  • Getting more kids to go to school.
  • And helping Indigenous children share in a normal, everyday pastime that other Australian kids love – learning to swim at the local pool.

Local partnerships for closing the gap

These are the kind of policy priorities that the Government is determined to push to close the gap.

Over the last year I’ve spent a lot of time in Indigenous communities across the nation, and I often ask myself, ‘how did we collectively get here?’
It strikes hardest when you see beautiful children who just don’t get the chance of a decent start in life.

I know I don’t have to paint you a picture. We all know that what we are fighting today has been generations in the making.

A decades-long social decline. The legacy of successive governments’ failure. It didn’t happen overnight and it can’t be fixed overnight.

Everyone here today knows there is an enormous gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, but just because this is old news doesn’t mean we can let it go on.

Closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians must be a national priority. It is a major piece of unfinished business facing the nation.

We have laid out targets to make the desperately-needed inroads.

  • Over the next decade, halving the gap in infant mortality rates.
  • In the same time frame halving the gap in reading, writing and numeracy for children.
  • Over the next generation, closing the 17 year gap in life expectancy.
  • And halving the gap in Indigenous employment outcomes within a decade.

But meeting these targets won’t be easy. Government commitment alone will not get us there.

Of course, government commitment is an essential part of the equation.

But the challenge demands more than just government action.

We must build more local partnerships between government and corporate and community sectors. And Indigenous Australians must be centrally involved in developing solutions.

Business action

Looking around the room, the will and commitment across corporate and non-government sectors to be part of the national effort is very clear.

I know many of you are engaged in this national challenge and are already achieving great things in Indigenous communities.

The four major banks, for example, are partnering with the Aboriginal employment strategy in Sydney to place hundreds of Indigenous high school students in traineeships.

The NRL and other football codes are bringing sport to Indigenous communities and at the same time creating new education pathways.

Indigenous Enterprise Partnerships is working in many communities to strengthen Indigenous leadership through successful mentoring programs and other great activities.

Qantas, one the first major companies to lodge a Reconciliation Action Plan, exceeded its 2008 target of 200 Indigenous employees, and is on track for its 2009 target of 300 employees.

So many of you are doing great things.

We are determined to find ways to better harness and build on this commitment.

Enlisting and supporting business to help drive change is key.

Key areas and policy priorities for Business Action

That’s why we are developing a Closing the Gap Strategy for Business Action to chart a way forward for more local partnerships for closing the gap.

The strategy will identify the five key areas that we are keen to support business action. Areas like:

  • Jobs – the basic building block for self-respect and a better standard of living
  • Education and training – essential to get people into sustainable job
  • Sports, arts, other recreational activities – those everyday community activities, like the Yuendumu pool, which have the power to transform children’s lives
  • Governance and community development – helping organisations and communities drive change
  • Economic development – sharing the benefits of business

And it will help encourage the broader policy priorities that will help drive change. Priorities like those I’ve discussed in relation to the pool at Yuendumu.


Earlier today I was at the launch of the Australian Employment Covenant, led by Andrew Forrest and supported by the Government to create 50,000 new Indigenous jobs in the next two years.

This project ticks many of these boxes – jobs; education and training; economic development.

Along with forging 50,000 new employment pathways.

It also demonstrates some of the features of excellent corporate governance in business action that the Government wants to encourage local partnerships for closing the gap.

Things like:

  • Highest level involvement – preferably at CEO level
  • A regional focus
  • Consultation and Indigenous engagement
  • Strengthening culture
  • And promoting the capacity to form networks between companies to bring focused and long term attention to a local challenge.


We want to foster fresh, coordinated approaches like the Australian Employment Covenant and the great work so many of you are already doing.

At the centre of all our efforts will always be the imperative to care for Indigenous families and give more Indigenous children a better start in life.

It’s a goal of national importance. Working together we can bring about long overdue and much-needed change.